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Veterans Affairs pilot program aims to get vets in rural area vaccinated

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Posted at 3:42 PM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 17:44:41-05

Across the country, people are lining up to get vaccinated against COVID-19, including a group of veterans in Kalispell, Montana.

But Kalispell is not the easiest place to get to.

“It’s been a herculean effort to support vaccinations. We’re a Rocky Mountain state, so we have mountains, we have winter,” said Judy Haman, the executive director of the Montana VA health system. “We were selected by (V.A. Undersecretary Dr. Richard Stone) to pilot the rural vaccine distribution program.”

Haman is in charge of running the VA’s pilot program, transporting vaccines to rural communities across the country. It simply takes too long to drive to these communities, so vaccines arrive by plane.

“We’ve flown to two events thus far. That enables us to get the vaccine quickly across this very large state,” said Haman.

Every shot in the arm the VA delivers is a big relief for hospitals across the state.

“Every time a veterans clinic or the VA hospital can vaccinate somebody, it’s one more person who’s not standing in line to receive a vaccine at their local hospital,” said Rich Rasmussen, who runs the Montana Hospital Association.

The extra vaccines are huge for Rasmussen. He’s acutely aware of the challenges these rural communities face.

One challenge not unique to rural communities is the amount of vaccines available.

“The main limiting factor is just the supply of vaccine," said Rep. Mark Takano, a California Democrat.

Takano is the chair of the House Committee on Veteran Affairs. He and other members of the committee are trying to make sure the VA has the resources it needs to vaccinate vets across the country. Most of that will come in the form of cash.

“There’s another $17 billion being marked up last week as part of the American Rescue Plan put forward by the Biden administration,” said Takano.

Some of that money will allow the VA to roll out the rural vaccine program across the country and continue to deliver vaccinations to those who’ve served our country faithfully.