They served in the military decades ago, often putting their lives on the line for their country. But aging veterans are learning that their sacrifice may not guarantee them a COVID-19 vaccine at a Veterans Affairs clinic.
Army veteran Paul Jacobs, 91, found out the hard way.
Jacobs showed up at the VA clinic in West Palm Beach on Sunday hoping to get the shot, but he says he was turned away three hours later because he makes too much money.
“It’s not fair that they turned us away,” he said. “It was just a shame that veterans were discriminated against because of their income.”
Years ago, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offered medical care to nearly all military vets. That changed in 2003, when the underfunded and overburdened agency imposed income limits.
To receive cost-free VA health care, veterans can’t make more than certain amounts depending on where they live, said Kenita Tills, public affairs officer for the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center.
For those who live in Palm Beach County, the limit ranges from $51,535 for a veteran with no dependents to $58,905 for a veteran with one dependent. In Broward County, the limit increases to $51,865 and $59,290, respectively.
The VA sent out notices saying eligible vets 70 and over could get vaccine shots, no appointment required. The notice did not outline the income limits, but did have a link at the bottom of the second page for those wanting to review “income limitations.”
Some marveled that vets who served their country are being turned away for a vaccine while people flying in from outside the U.S. are not.
“I would like to see every veteran get it,” said Jerry Toomey, a Lauderhill resident and commander of Disabled American Veterans Chapter 133. “I don’t know what the rules are that they have to live with [at the VA]. Now should they be waived during this pandemic? That would probably be a good thing to do.”
Jacobs and other vets had high hopes when they heard the VA was holding a special walk-up event over the long Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Some drove from as far as Miami and Port St. Lucie to get their shots — and more than 2,700 of them did. But many were turned away.
“There were 16 of us sent away,” said Jacobs, a retired attorney from Detroit who spends winters with his daughter in Palm Beach Gardens. “I was so upset. I couldn’t even drive home. My daughter had to drive.”