Veterans’ Health

Grantee Name

Team Red, White & Blue Inc.

Funding Area

Veterans’ Health

Publication Date

October 2023

Grant Amount


Grant Date:

August 2021—July 2022

Since the beginning of the pandemic, it is estimated that more than 1,000 veterans in New York State alone have died from COVID-19.

As mass vaccination efforts rolled out in spring 2021, many veterans, especially those living in rural areas, remained hesitant to get vaccinated. Many of the same veterans who would benefit from vaccination also faced other effects of the pandemic, including increased social isolation, financial stress, delayed medical care, and mental health concerns. Vaccination outreach became a high priority and created an additional opportunity to connect veterans to peer support, physical and mental health care, food, and wellness programs. In response, six national veteran organizations, including Team Red, White & Blue (Team RWB) and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), came together to form the Veterans Coalition for Vaccination. By mobilizing trusted veteran volunteers and a trained outreach workforce, the coalition promoted increased access to vaccines in high-need areas, such as rural communities, across New York State. In 2021, NYHealth awarded Team RWB a grant to help implement the coalition’s work and increase veterans’ access to both COVID-19 vaccines and community-based resources that could reduce suicide risk, improve their health, and increase their quality of life.

Outcomes and Lessons Learned

Under this grant, Team RWB:

  • Developed a text, call, text outreach protocol to connect with veterans in New York State that will serve as a nationally replicable model for Team RWB.
  • Reached out to 222 veterans and successfully connected with 154 veterans, resulting in a successful contact rate of 69%, which is on par with larger, successful federal efforts conducted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
  • Referred 76 veterans to programs aimed at improving their physical health.
  • Connected 19 veterans with unmet mental health needs to the George W. Bush Veteran Wellness Alliance for screening and access to community-based mental health providers.
  • Hosted more than 400 events in New York State, with more than 800 veterans participating in person.

The impact of the project on vaccination take-up among rural New York veterans is unclear. Nearly a quarter of our country’s veteran population lives in rural areas, which, prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, already had higher poverty rates, more elderly residents, poorer health outcomes, and fewer health care options when compared with urban communities. The pandemic compounded these issues. Adults living in rural areas have been the least likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19, making the need for both expanded outreach to veterans in these communities and increased access to vaccine information more pronounced.

Understanding these previously unmet needs and recognizing the opportunity to reduce vaccine hesitancy in the veteran community, Team RWB successfully coupled its text, call, text outreach strategy with its participation in the Veterans Coalition for Vaccination. The project achieved its overall goal of creating and deploying an outreach strategy that helped connect new members with vital health services such as vaccinations and mental health care, serving as a replicable model for Team RWB moving forward. To date, more than 190,000 veterans in New York State received a COVID-19 vaccine through a VA provider—which is approximately 50% of the New York State veteran population enrolled in VA health care; by comparison, 79% of the overall State population has been vaccinated. However, because the overwhelming majority of the veteran population relies on private sector health care, and VA only tracks the number of veterans vaccinated at its facilities, much of the project’s impact is unclear. Had the project scope and budget included more time and resources, a mechanism to track vaccine hesitancy, success in persuading hesitant veterans to get vaccinated, and whether these efforts increased vaccinations among veterans would have provided a clearer picture of this project’s impact.

Co-Funding and Additional Funds Leveraged: N/A