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Some Veteran Caregivers Eligible for COVID-19 Vaccine through VA

The move is the result of a coalition of veterans groups that lobbied for the caregivers to be sent to the top of the vaccine list, arguing that they deserved to be included in the first wave of medical professionals being protected against the deadly illness, says Military Times’ recent article entitled “Tens of thousands of veteran caregivers now eligible for the coronavirus vaccine through VA.”

Dr. Richard Stone, executive in charge of the VA, released a memo stating that those registered with the department’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers can be given the vaccine “in a coordinated manner with the veterans for whom they provide care.”

More than 6,700 VA patients have died from COVID complications in the last 10 months. Stone’s memo states that decisions will be made “in balance with site-specific resources, needs, vaccine availability, hesitancy to accept the vaccine and status of the pandemic locally.”

In an interview with Military Times, Stone commented that he is shifting many of those vaccination decisions to local officials to give coverage to more individuals.

“We need to leave it up to people at the bedsides, to make sure they are making the best decisions for veterans,” he said. “When someone brings a veteran in to give them the vaccine, they can easily identify what the other needs are.”

Roughly 20,000 veterans are registered in the caregiver program at the Department of Veterans Affairs. This program provides monthly stipends and other support to individuals providing regular medical assistance to infirm veterans.

The data shows that the majority of this group are family members of post-9/11 veterans. The caregiver assistance program was expanded last fall to veterans who served before May 1975.

And recently, a coalition of veteran groups, including The Independence Fund, Military Order of the Purple Heart and the Non-Commissioned Officers Association sent a letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency officials asking them to authorize the VA to administer the caregiver vaccines, under its role as the lead coordinator of federal response to the pandemic.

Dr. Stone said as of January 13, VA officials had administered the first dose of the two-part vaccine to more than 332,000 department health care employees and veterans at high-risk of contracting coronavirus. Another 45,000 individuals have already received their second dose. The vaccine has been sent to nearly 200 department facilities. However, officials have warned that it could be months before they can administer the more than 7 million vaccines they expect to be requested by veterans and staff.

Reference: Military Times (Jan. 14, 2021) “Tens of thousands of veteran caregivers now eligible for the coronavirus vaccine through VA”

Federal Court Decides for ‘Blue Water’ Navy Veterans

In November, the U.S. District Court for Northern California ruled in favor of thousands of “blue water” Navy veterans and their survivors, who argued that they’re being wrongly denied benefits as part of a deal reached by Congress last year.

Military Times’ recent article entitled “New court ruling could give thousands of Vietnam vets and survivors overdue disability payouts” reports that under that plan, the Department of Veterans Affairs was required to grant presumptive benefit status for chemical defoliant exposure to veterans who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam during that war.

Advocates for years had said that VA’s requirement of direct proof of exposure was hard to obtain, when it has been decades after veterans were in the service. However, more than 22,500 blue water veterans or survivors have received VA benefits payouts since the beginning of 2020.

The new law didn’t require VA officials to go back and review cases denied before 2020. Vets who reapplied for benefits could have their cases considered again, but advocates argue that all of the cases should be resurfaced and reviewed by the VA.

In an interview with Military Times, Under Secretary for Benefits Paul Lawrence said no decision has been made by VA and Department of Justice officials on an appeal. However, he did remark that the lawsuit was discussed as part of VA’s preparations for the new benefits processing at the start of this year.

If the decision stands — either upon further appeal or if the government opts to simply accept the latest ruling — Lawrence said he’s confident the VA can start reviewing those cases without any significant disruption to operations.

President Trump signed legislation granting presumptive status for disability benefits to about 90,000 Navy veterans who served in the seas around Vietnam during the war. This concludes a long battle to get disability benefits more quickly for up to 90,000 Navy veterans who served in Vietnam.

VA has already paid out about $700 million in retroactive benefits related to the “blue water” veterans benefits in 2020.

Reference: Military Times (Nov. 16, 2020) “New court ruling could give thousands of Vietnam vets and survivors overdue disability payouts”

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