The House on Friday passed a sweeping new authorization for the Department of Veterans Affairs that would boost the agency's ability to deliver shots to millions of Americans, following President Joe Biden's pledge to have COVID-19 vaccines available to all adults by May.
The measure was recently passed in the Senate and now heads to the president's desk to be signed into law.
"Unanimous passage of our bipartisan bill means we're one step away from ensuring that every veteran, spouse, and caregiver in this country has access to a vaccine from VA," Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said in a statement.
"This legislation is a critical step in reaching our common goal of saving more lives and getting our economy back on track as quickly and safely as possible," added Tester, who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
The Save Lives Act would greenlight the VA to vaccinate all veterans, veteran spouses, caregivers, and Civilian Health and Medical Program recipients.
As of Friday, the VA had fully vaccinated more than 1.4 million people, including veterans and employees. Currently, the VA is administering vaccines only to employees and its 9 million patients. The new law would open up who could receive the vaccine, regardless of a veteran's eligibility to receive VA care, adding yet another option for a large portion of the country to get vaccines.
However, patients enrolled in VA care will get priority. About half of the 18 million total U.S. veterans are enrolled in VA care, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The bill's passage comes during a massive concerted effort from the Biden administration to get shots to as many Americans as possible, with the goal of the country starting to return to relative normalcy by Independence Day.
"I urge the president to quickly sign this legislation into law to make certain the VA has the freedom to vaccinate veteran spouses, non-enrolled veterans, caregivers, overseas veterans and others with excess COVID-19 vaccine supply," Sen. Jerry Moran, the top Republican on the VA committee, said in a statement.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon