Increasing Veteran Access to the COVID-19 Vaccine and Community-Based Resources
June 15, 2021
Since the beginning of the pandemic, an estimated 1,200 veterans in New York State alone have died from COVID-19.
The mass vaccination rollout has brought some hope, but many veterans, especially those living in rural areas, remain hesitant to get vaccinated. Many of the same veterans who could benefit from vaccination also face other effects of the pandemic including increased social isolation, financial stress, delayed medical care, and mental health concerns. With vaccination outreach now being a high priority, there is also an opportunity to connect veterans to peer support, physical and mental health care, food, and wellness programs. Earlier this year, six veteran organizations, including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and Team Red, White & Blue (Team RWB), came together to form the Veterans Coalition for Vaccination. By mobilizing trusted veteran volunteers and a trained outreach workforce, the Coalition will promote increased vaccine uptake in high-need areas across New York State and provide outreach, navigation, and referrals to mental health and peer support resources. In 2021, NYHealth awarded Team RWB a grant to help implement the Coalition’s work and increase veterans’ access to COVID-19 vaccines and community-based resources that can help reduce suicide risk. NYHealth is also supporting a complementary initiative with IAVA.
Under this grant, in collaboration with IAVA, Team RWB engaged veterans across New York State, with a focus on rural communities. It used vaccine outreach as a touchpoint to identify other areas of need. Strategies included targeted digital and social media campaigns, word-of-mouth outreach among chapter-based nonprofits, family outreach, and member engagement. For each veteran, it provided tailored vaccine messaging, scheduled vaccine appointments, screened for additional unmet health care needs, and made referrals for mental health and peer support services and resources. With IAVA, Team RWB collected and reviewed data to fine-tune the outreach approach. Data was used to streamline outreach efforts and to identify pockets of need.