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More veterans should get COVID-19 vaccine, congresswoman tells VA

By SUSANNAH BRYAN | South Florida Sun Sentinel | Published: February 2, 2021

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is urging the federal government to expand its efforts to vaccinate military veterans against the coronavirus, including many who have been denied because they make too much money.

Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, has appealed to Dat Tran, acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, to waive a requirement that veterans meet income guidelines to receive the COVID-19 vaccine from the VA.

“We are writing to urge you to use your authority as Acting Secretary to ensure that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is administering the COVID-19 vaccine to as many veterans as possible, including veterans who may not be currently enrolled in the VA health care system,” she wrote in a letter Monday.

Wasserman Schultz became aware of the problem after the South Florida Sun Sentinel published a story Jan 21 about veterans turned away from a VA clinic in West Palm Beach over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend because they didn’t meet income requirements.

They included Army veteran Paul Jacobs, who showed up at the VA clinic in West Palm Beach on Jan. 17 hoping to get the shot, but then was turned away three hours later because he makes too much money.

“I was so upset,” Jacobs, 91, said at the time. “I couldn’t even drive home. My daughter had to drive. It was just a shame that veterans were discriminated against because of their income.”

Years ago, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offered medical care to nearly all military vets. That changed in 2003, when the underfunded and overburdened agency imposed income limits.

To receive cost-free VA health care, veterans can’t make over certain amounts depending on where they live, said Kenita Tills, public affairs officer for the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center.

For those who live in Palm Beach County, the limit ranges from $51,535 for a veteran with no dependents to $58,905 for a veteran with one dependent. In Broward County, the limit increases to $51,865 and $59,290, respectively.

Income limits do not apply to vets who were injured in the line of duty.

The VA sent out notices saying eligible vets 70 and over could get vaccine shots, no appointment required. The notice did not outline the income limits but did have a link at the bottom of the second page for those wanting to review “income limitations.”

Some marveled that vets who served their country are being turned away for a vaccine while people flying in from outside the U.S. were not. The state has since restricted the vaccine to residents.

Wasserman Schultz is appealing for change for veterans.

“Despite VA’s robust and far-reaching efforts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has come to our attention that the Department’s public communication used to coordinate the provision of vaccines to veterans has, in some instances, been unclear and has resulted in confusion and frustration,” she wrote in her appeal to the feds.

“At a time of widespread misinformation and anxiety, we encourage VA to increase its efforts to be clear and communicative about eligibility for vaccination at its events. We also understand that VA’s Office of General Counsel has determined some veterans who meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state guidelines for COVID-19 immunization are ineligible to receive the vaccine through VA because they are not presently enrolled in the VA health care system.”

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