The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is expanding its COVID-19 vaccine mandate on Aug. 13 to include most Veterans Health Administration (VHA) employees, volunteers, contractors, or anyone who comes in contact with VA patients and healthcare workers as part of their job, the agency announced today.

Additionally, the National Guard, part of the Department of Defense (DoD), confirmed it will support any vaccine guidance Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issues, and the U.S. Coast Guard, part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said it is ready to implement a vaccine mandate “when authorized or directed by higher authority.”

VA was the first Federal agency to mandate its personnel receive the vaccine back last month, but the expanded vaccine mandate will now include Hybrid Title 38 and Title 5 VA health care personnel.

This includes personnel such as “psychologists, pharmacists, social workers, nursing assistants, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, peer specialists, medical support assistants, engineers, housekeepers, and other clinical, administrative, and infrastructure support employees who come into contact with VA patients and healthcare workers,” according to a VA press release.

“We’re now including most VHA employees and volunteers and contractors in the vaccine mandate because it remains the best way to keep veterans safe, especially as the Delta variant spreads across the country,” Secretary McDonough said. “This pandemic is not over and VA must do everything in our power to protect veterans from COVID-19. With this expanded mandate, we can once again make — and keep — that fundamental promise.”

VA said affected personnel will have eight weeks to show proof of vaccination to their local VHA Occupational Health Office. Additionally, employees can receive the vaccine for free at any of VA’s facilities and would receive four hours of paid administrative leave to do so.

National Guard and U.S. Coast Guard to Follow

The National Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed to MeriTalk that they stand ready to implement any future vaccine mandates when directed from a higher authority.

Specifically, the National Guard will implement any DoD vaccine guidance and the U.S. Coast Guard will implement a vaccine mandate “when authorized or directed by higher authority,” such as DHS.

“Like the rest of the joint force, the Coast Guard is ready to implement mandatory vaccination for its military personnel when authorized or directed by higher authority,” Lt. j.g. Sondra-Kay Kneen, a Coast Guard spokeswoman told MeriTalk. “To date, the Coast Guard has fully vaccinated over 67 percent of its workforce, including 73.7 percent of all active duty military personnel.”

Kneen also noted that 75.8 percent of the active duty workforce has been vaccinated with at least one dose.

“The Coast Guard continues its campaign to vaccinate the entire workforce to sustain mission readiness, and ensure we are protecting ourselves, our shipmates, our families, and our communities against COVID-19,” she said.

The Department of Defense announced on Monday that it will require all active duty service members to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by mid-September, or immediately upon final Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, whichever comes first.

“What we can say is that the National Guard is postured to support any guidance the Secretary of Defense releases,” Wayne Hall, a National Guard Bureau spokesman told MeriTalk. “If the vaccine does become a requirement, all National Guard service members, other than those in State Active Duty, will be subject to any mandatory vaccination directive to the same extent as active component personnel.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.
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