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Brown bill expanding vaccine access for vets and families passes Senate

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Senate unanimously passed bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, as well as Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Montana, U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Arkansas, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, to expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to veterans and their families under the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“This is great news for veterans, their families and caregivers,” Brown said in a news release. “As we work to vaccinate all Ohioans and get the COVID-19 pandemic under control, we must ensure that our veterans can access the vaccine easily and for free. I am proud to be part of the Senate’s unanimous passage of this bill and expect the House to pass it swiftly.”

The senators’ Strengthening and Amplifying Vaccination Efforts to Locally Immunize all Veterans and Every Spouse (SAVE LIVES) Act would allow VA to provide no-cost COVID vaccination services to all veterans, veteran spouses, caregivers and Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs recipients to the extent that such vaccines are available. It also urges the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to adjust VA’s vaccine allocation based on this increased eligibility pool, as much as the supply chain allows.

The SAVE LIVES Act will expand VA’s authority to provide vaccines to:

• Veterans who are not eligible for enrollment in VA’s health care system, including veterans without compensable service-connected disabilities and veterans who have incomes above a certain threshold;
• Caregivers of veterans who are enrolled in various VA home-based and long-term care programs;
• Veterans living abroad who rely on the Foreign Medical Program;
• Spouses of veterans; and
• CHAMPVA recipients (spouses or children of permanently and totally disabled veterans or of veterans who have died from service-connected disabilities).

Earlier this month, Brown reintroduced bicameral legislation to allow children of disabled veterans to remain eligible for VA health care until they are 26 years old — the same coverage required under the Affordable Care Act for private-sector insurance plans, as well as the military’s TRICARE program.

The lawmakers first introduced the CHAMPVA Children’s Protection Act in April 2019, and are hopeful the legislation will pass with both the Senate and House majority.