Senator Hassan Discusses Coordinating COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Across State Lines & Ensuring Veterans Can Sign Up for their Vaccine Appointments
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) took part in her first Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee hearing yesterday where she highlighted the importance of ensuring that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is doing everything that it can to distribute COVID-19 vaccines quickly and efficiently to veterans in New Hampshire and across the country.
To watch the Senator’s questioning, click here.
Communicating with Veterans Across State Lines
Senator Hassan first pressed the VA on how it is addressing challenges to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to veterans who live in one state but receive care in another state where vaccine availability and protocols may be different. Since New Hampshire does not have a full-service VA hospital, many veterans who reside in New Hampshire receive care in White River Junction, Vermont or Bedford, Massachusetts.
In response to Senator Hassan’s questioning, Dr. Jane Kim, COVID-19 Vaccine Project Lead and Chief Consultant for Preventative Medicine at the VA, said, “Whether they live in New Hampshire or whether they live in Massachusetts, if they are served by that medical center or clinic we know whether they’re in a priority phase for vaccinations, so we will reach out to them regardless of where they live.”
Senator Hassan also pushed the VA on its process for signing veterans up for their COVID-19 vaccine appointment: “Many facilities are offering an online appointment registration system for veterans to sign up for the vaccine...The online portals are obviously a great tool, some veterans may struggle with the technology though or they don’t have the connectivity to access the system. And many veterans in my state live in rural areas, which one has less access to broadband, and also a lot of veterans in my state are older and have less exposure to online tools.”
Regional directors from the VA’s Veterans Integrated Service Network told the Senator that they work with Veterans Service Organizations, such as the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans, to get the word out about vaccine distribution to their members, as well as other veterans in the community
Senator Hassan also questioned Dr. Richard Stone, Acting Director for Health at the Veterans Health Administration on vaccine hesitancy among the veteran population.
“We have begun to see data on the rates of certain segments of the population declining to get the vaccine, including actively serving military members and first responders,” Senator Hassan said. “In your testimony, you described listening sessions with minority veterans and other concrete steps that you’re taking to help reduce vaccine hesitancy among the veteran population.”
Senator Hassan asked Dr. Stone if the VA is gathering data on veterans who have declined to receive the vaccine.
“Our data is not as clear as it should be. It appears that about 15 percent of the [veteran] population is declining [a COVID-19 vaccine],” Dr. Stone said. “…This is a really unique, new types of vaccine that we’re dealing with and it’s just going to take a lot of education and a lot of work and a lot of trust for us to get to where you and I would like to be on this.”
Senator Hassan is working across the aisle to support veterans, and recently helped secure key priorities for Granite State veterans in the bipartisan veterans package that was signed into law earlier this year, including the Deborah Sampson Act, which Senator Hassan joined in introducing to eliminate barriers to care and services that many women veterans face. The bipartisan package also included a number of other measures cosponsored by Senator Hassan, including supporting veterans experiencing homelessness, helping veterans safely dispose of unwanted medication, and helping address the high rate of unemployment among veterans as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, last year Senator Hassan cosponsored bipartisan legislation, which is now law, to improve veterans’ access to mental health care in New Hampshire and across the country.