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BREAKING: Bipartisan Bill Expanding Vaccine Access for Vets & Families Heads to President’s Desk

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Washington, March 19, 2021 | Samantha Gonzalez | comments
The House unanimously passed bipartisan legislation today spearheaded by House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee leaders, Ranking Member Mike Bost (R-Ill.), Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), and Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.), to expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to veterans and their families under the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This legislation now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

The Strengthening and Amplifying Vaccination Efforts to Locally Immunize all Veterans and Every Spouse (SAVE LIVES) Act would allow VA to provide COVID vaccination services to all veterans, veteran spouses, caregivers, and Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) recipients to the extent that such vaccines are available. It also urges the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to adjust VA’s vaccine allocation based on this increased eligibility pool, as much as the supply chain allows. This legislation builds upon the VA VACCINE Act, legislation led by Ranking Member Bost and Chairman Takano.

“I am proud of the work my colleagues and I have done to send the SAVE LIVES Act to the President’s desk,” said Ranking Member Bost. “There is no question that vaccines are the key to getting past this pandemic and restoring our way of life. Our bill allows VA to vaccinate all veterans, regardless of their eligibility to enroll in the VA healthcare system. It also allows VA to vaccinate veteran spouses and caregivers. I hope the President signs it into law immediately.”

“Today, we sent vital legislation to the President’s desk that will ensure VA has the authority to provide COVID-19 vaccines to all veterans, caregivers, and veteran spouses who walk through its doors,” said Chairman Takano. “VA has proven itself as one the most effective vaccinators in the nation— but it’s clear VA needs additional authority to continue leading this effort to get as many shots into arms as possible. After hearing some veterans were turned away because they weren’t eligible for VA care, I saw a need and worked with Ranking Member Bost, VA, and the VSO community to speedily pass the VA VACCINE Act through the House with over 50 cosponsors in just two weeks. The strength of VA’s internal healthcare delivery system and the Department’s successful role in national vaccination efforts makes this expansion possible, but I know this is a heavy lift. That’s why this expansion must be contingent on having adequate supply of the vaccine— even with the expanded authority granted by the Senate, VA must continue to prioritize vaccinations and healthcare delivery for our nation’s veterans. Given VA’s vital role as a national healthcare entity, Congress must fully resource and empower VA to be staffed and equipped with talented and dedicated professionals committed to providing our veterans with the best healthcare possible. When COVID-19 vaccine supply is readily available, our bipartisan legislation will give VA the authority it needs to vastly ramp up its vaccination efforts, and I look forward to President Biden signing my bill, as amended, into law.”

“Military service is family service, and that is why the VA and this committee aim to care for both veterans and their families,” said Ranking Member Moran. “I urge the President to quickly sign this legislation into law to make certain the VA has the freedom to vaccinate veteran spouses, non-enrolled veterans, caregivers, overseas veterans and others with excess COVID-19 vaccine supply. While the VA will continue to prioritize vaccinating VHA enrolled veterans with its allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine, this legislation will help further protect our veterans and their families.”

“Unanimous passage of our bipartisan bill means we’re one step away from ensuring that every veteran, spouse, and caregiver in this country has access to a vaccine from VA,” said Chairman Tester. “This legislation is a critical step in reaching our common goal of saving more lives and getting our economy back on track as quickly and safely as possible. I thank Senators Moran, Boozman, Blumenthal, and our House colleagues for joining me in our effort to provide veterans and their families with the protection they need to get through this pandemic, and I urge the President sign this bill into law without any delay.”

The SAVE LIVES Act will expand VA’s authority to provide vaccines to:

• Veterans who are not eligible for enrollment in VA’s health care system, including veterans without compensable service-connected disabilities and veterans who have incomes above a certain threshold;
• Caregivers of veterans who are enrolled in various VA home-based and long-term care programs;
• Spouses of veterans; and
• CHAMPVA recipients (spouses of permanently and totally disabled veterans or of veterans who have died from service-connected disabilities).
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