Montana Public Radio: New VA Secretary, Montana Congressional Delegates Urge Veterans Get COVID-19 Vaccines

by Shaylee Ragar

The Biden Administration’s new secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs joined Montana’s congressional delegates for a visit to Fort Harrison in Helena Wednesday. The officials are urging veterans to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

Secretary Denis McDonough said the VA is concerned not enough veterans know about an agency pilot program in Montana to distribute vaccines to veterans in rural places.

“And so we want to make sure that they’re in touch with their provider to get that vaccination scheduled.”

McDonough suggested veterans should talk to their providers if they’re feeling hesitant about getting vaccinated.

McDonough says the VA has seen its own challenges in rolling out the program the last two months as vaccines have been flown in for veterans living in remote areas.

“We learned a lot of important lessons about that. And one important lesson is that it’s two vaccines, it’s two shots, so we had to go do that twice.”

McDonough said the VA has now used this model to roll out vaccines for veterans in Alaska and Kansas.

Republican Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Matt Rosendale, and Democratic Sen. Jon Tester also urged veterans to make appointments to get vaccinated.

Tester, who’s the new Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, organized McDonough’s trip to Montana.

McDonough said the VA is also focused on addressing a lack of mental health care for veterans, making medical records electronic and helping veterans get treated for toxic exposure.