Reps. Axne, Fortenberry Urge VA to Expand COVID-19 Vaccinations for Veteran Caregivers

February 17, 2021
Press Release
Current Department of Veterans Affairs policy only allows enrolled caregivers to veterans with 70% disability rating or higher to receive a COVID-19 vaccine

Today, Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) and Jeff Fortenberry (NE-01) sent a letter to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Denis McDonough to urge expanded availability of coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines for veteran caregivers.

In their letter, the members highlight the growing need for vaccination of caregivers – many who accompany veterans to their medical appointments or provide in-home care – to receive a vaccination as well. 

“With COVID-19 continuing to spread rapidly across the country, many veterans remain at high risk of infection” the members wrote. “While these veterans will likely qualify for early vaccination at the VA, their caregivers will not. This is why we are requesting the VA expand vaccine distribution to all family caregivers of disabled veterans - regardless of the veteran's services connected disability.”

Current VA policy restricts COVID-19 vaccines to caregivers working with a veteran with a VA disability rating of 70% or higher and who are also registered with the VA’s Comprehensive Caregiver Program.

The average age of a veteran in the United States is 58, with 37.5% of U.S. veterans now over the age of 65. While that age group is in a high-risk category that qualifies them to receive COVID-19 vaccines early, the members cite the current VA policies as limiting for the hundreds of thousands of veterans whose caregivers will not qualify for a vaccine.

“In 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report that found that 4.7 million veterans, or 25% of the veteran population, had a service-connected disability; and, surveys show over half of these veterans require some amount of help from a caregiver regardless of their service-connected disability,” the members wrote. “Fewer than 40,000 caregivers are enrolled in the Comprehensive Caregiver Program, meaning the majority of veterans caregivers are not eligible to receive a vaccine through this program.”

The full text of the letter can be found here and below:

Dear Secretary McDonough:

We are requesting you provide a path forward for caregivers of disabled veterans to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of the veteran’s service-connected disability rating. Caregivers to our veterans likely pose the highest risk of being a COVID-19 carrier that could expose veterans to this pandemic. Unfortunately, vaccines for caregivers of veterans is limited in scope. 

We are grateful for the efforts that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has already taken in combatting the spread of COVID-19, including the VA January 15th, 2021 decision to provide vaccines to caregivers of veterans in the Comprehensive Caregiver Program. Caregivers play a critical role in caring for some of our most vulnerable veterans. However, the current policy limits vaccine distribution to only the caregivers who care for a veteran with a VA disability rating (individual or combined) of 70% or higher.

Currently, the Comprehensive Caregiver Program is open to those providing long-term care to a veteran with a 70% or higher service-connected disability rating. In 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report that found that 4.7 million veterans, or 25% of the veteran population, had a service-connected disability; and surveys show over half of these veterans require some amount of help from a caregiver regardless of their service-connected disability. Fewer than 40,000 caregivers are enrolled in the Comprehensive Caregiver Program, meaning the majority of veterans caregivers are not eligible to receive a vaccine through this program.

With COVID-19 continuing to spread rapidly across the country, many veterans remain at high risk of infection. While these veterans will likely qualify for early vaccination at the VA, their caregivers will not. This is why we are requesting the VA expand vaccine distribution to all family caregivers of disabled veterans - regardless of the veteran's services connected disability. 

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.