MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (WDVM) — The Martinsburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center is expanding its vaccine eligibility under new legislation signed by President Biden in late March.
Dr. Michael Zapor, the Deputy Chief of Staff, explained that the SAVE LIVES Act now enables VA medical centers like his to provide COVID vaccines to people who were previously ineligible for care from the VA. In order to receive treatment at any VA medical center, a veteran must meet the eligibility criteria and be enrolled in VA health care. Now, the SAVE LIVES Act expands COVID vaccine access to all veterans, veteran spouses, caregivers, and some beneficiaries.
Previously, the VA medical center only offered vaccines to veterans enrolled in VA health care. Victor Rice, the Chief of Medical Administration, explained that the process and potential eligibility criteria for VA health care can be very complicated. He stated that veterans must fall within a certain income bracket and meet certain service requirements to qualify for services provided by the VA.
“Essentially, if you served honorably and were discharged honorably, then you are eligible for health care,” Rice stated. “Those that did not serve honorably or did not serve enough time in service, those are the ones that now this SAVE LIVES Act actually helps to get them the coverage that they need just to get this COVID vaccine.”
Richard McCarthy is a retired Air Force veteran who received his vaccine earlier this year. His spouse, Miyuki, was previously unable to find an available vaccine for the last few months in their hometown of Leesburg, Virginia.
She explained that they exhausted all other options for obtaining a vaccine, like calling nearby all pharmacies and locations offering shots, and had given up on waiting for the Virginia Department of Health to contact them for an appointment. The couple drove almost an hour after they were offered a vaccine appointment less than two days after the legislation was implemented at the medical center.
“It’s fantastic to know that she can be receiving the same type of care through the VA that I as a military veteran can,” McCarthy said.
Dr. Zapor says that this expansion will benefit not only the veteran population but the community as a whole.
“The priority is to provide the vaccine to as many people as possible,” Dr. Zapor explained. “The SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, has no respect for eligibility and who’s eligible for care, and if they are enrolled for VHA care and so forth.”
These vaccines are available to all veterans, their spouses, and all caregiver by appointment only. Any CHAMPVA beneficiaries must also meet CDC risk criteria. A full list of eligible recipients can be found on the Veterans Affairs website.
To find the VA medical center nearest to you and to schedule your vaccine appointment, please visit the Veterans Affairs COVID Vaccine page.