Who's first in line for the COVID vaccines at the Department of Veterans' Affairs?
I recently wrote an American Thinker post about vaccine priorities at the Department of Veterans' Affairs. When I inquired about availability of the COVID vaccine for the veterans at the Washington V.A. Medical Center, I was told to call back in two weeks. I did just that and was told this week that veterans age 85 and older will be inoculated.
Wanting to confirm what is occurring at DVA nationwide, I asked several questions of my old V.A. organization, the Office of Public Affairs. I was the first assistant secretary, first of congressional and public affairs and then public and intergovernmental affairs for the late Secretary Ed Derwinski when the V.A. became a Cabinet department. "Big Ed" or "The Big Cheese," as he was affectionately known, was a stand-up hero among my fellow Vietnam veterans when, after a twenty-year delay, he connected exposure to Agent Orange to a list of horrific end-of-life illnesses.
We also created the Desert Storm Registry, which is now a more inclusive Gulf War Registry. Secretary Derwinski also had a great sense of whimsical irony when he walked the halls of the DVA Central Office, and, noticing M.D.s with hugely impressive D.C bureaucrat titles, would often ask them, "Doctor, why you are not out curing veterans?"
"Big Ed," who had previously been a ten-term congressman and the only Republican one from Chicago, had a rule in guiding me to rigorously enforce my responsibilities: always be responsive to Congress, regardless of party, and also always answer completely all media inquiries.
Consequently, in order to help all American veterans understand the most current DVA national vaccine policy, I asked the Office of Public Affairs a series of questions. This is their most timely response:
All interested VA community living center (CLC) and spinal cord injury (SCI-D) residents as well as health care personnel are being offered the vaccine and vaccination efforts continue. VA has plenty of vaccine to accommodate all of these groups.
VA's ultimate goal is to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to all Veterans and employees who want to be vaccinated. As vaccine supplies increase, VA care teams will reach out to eligible Veterans to schedule vaccinations.
Q: I was told beginning next week veterans 85 years old and over will begin to be vaccinated at VAMC Washington.
A: That's accurate.
Q: Is the age criteria of 85 and up in place system wide ?
A: Phase 1b includes elderly Veterans 75 years of age and older, and facilities can start offering vaccine to persons in 1b when they have made good progress through Phase 1a. VA issued guidance on December 30, 2020, encouraging local flexibility in order to maximize COVID-19 vaccine access and efficiency, as well as limit potential waste. Until supply of vaccine is sufficient to offer vaccine to all persons in Phase 1b, sites may opt to offer to smaller groups at the highest risk within Phase 1b.
See more info here: https://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=5598
Most significant are the questions not answered in my same media inquiry. These may speak volumes about selfish DVA political and senior career SES leadership:
Have central office leadership at the ES-4 level (PAS) and even below been vaccinated?
If below ES-4 (PAS) at Central Office, then down to what Civil Service rank?
If so, when did that program begin?
Those questions were not answered, and please note that the DVA Central Office does not treat veterans. It is the bureaucratic HQ of the DVA.
Knowing from my experience in building a Cabinet-level media relations office that unless something dramatically changed over time, the career civil servants would never stonewall a legitimate media inquiry, I suspect that guidance was given, as often said, "above their pay grade," and so be it, suffer the consequences.
The possibility of outing potential senior leadership line-jumping is most definitely not gone, because I am sure that members of Congress in both House and Senate and in both parties should be interested. Veterans service organizations may have an interest, too, and perhaps even President Trump would be very interested, especially if Trump political appointees jumped to the head of the line, because it would stain his pro-veteran legacy. If true, it would be tragic, because there are enough vaccines available for those 85 and above only five miles away.
As a point of comparison, I called a very senior DOD Trump appointee and was so proud to hear that many in the DOD are deferring the vaccine for front-line troops and veterans to have head-of-the-line privileges. It speaks volumes about leadership and integrity.
Make no mistake: Secretary Willkie should be at the front of the line because of continuity of the government line of succession. But sadly, with no V.A. public affairs response to tell their side, American veterans of all parties have no choice but to leave to Congress to name and shame those senior individuals in the DVA Central Office who may have jumped the line. I hope I am wrong about anyone being that selfish, but when offered a chance, DVA P.A., given the opportunity to set the record straight, intentionally ducked the questions.