The Department of Veterans Affairs' vaccination roll out is well underway, and Secretary Denis McDonough said the recent passage of the American Rescue Plan will only accelerate the process while providing additional emergency aid to retired service members.
“More than 1.4 million veterans have been vaccinated, with more than half of them having gotten both vaccines,” McDonough said in a March 4 press conference at the White House.
With 6 million U.S. veterans receiving health care exclusively through the VA, this represents a nearly 25% inoculation rate — significantly higher than the 10% vaccination rate for all Americans recorded at the start of March.
McDonough attributed this to the VA’s robust nationwide distribution infrastructure.
“At the VA here in D.C., they're moving through something like 80 veterans vaccinated in an hour,” he said as one example.
McDonough qualified this success by noting that “the biggest challenge is [vaccine] supply," and that the passage of the American Rescue Act would likely further expedite the VA’s rate of vaccination. The legislation also contains significant allocation for medical care to veterans who have contracted COVID-19 and require emergency treatment.
“The President's American Rescue Plan will ... provide $17 billion in additional funding to VA, to include at least $13.5 billion to improve our ability to provide medical service to veterans affected by COVID,” McDonough said.
The American Rescue Plan will also provide financial and employment support to veterans struggling amidst the pandemic, with a particular focus on helping veterans return to work following unexpected job loss. This includes $272 million to help VA process and distribute backlogged disability claims, as well as $386 million “to develop a rapid retraining program for veterans unemployed as a result of a pandemic.”
Going forward, McDonough said VA is looking to make vaccination access as equitable as possible and emphasized that “we're making sure that equity is at the forefront of where and how we distribute vaccines” and that no communities go underserved.