The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has seen a nine percent increase in Veterans Health Administration (VHA) employees that have received the COVID-19 vaccine since the VA mandated the shot, but is still facing a 12 percent unvaccinated share of VHA employees with only a few weeks left before the Oct. 8 deadline.
In a press conference on Sept. 15, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said about 380,000 VHA employees are subject to the vaccine mandate. Of those employees, 82 percent have attested they are fully vaccinated and 88 percent are fully or partially vaccinated, McDonough said.
Of the 12 percent that have not taken the steps to get vaccinated, McDonough acknowledged that they have the option to receive a religious or medical exemption. However, McDonough said VA does not “have enough clarity yet to see into the data to find out how many such exemptions are being sought.”
“The best way to ensure safety for veterans is to have those personnel vaccinated,” McDonough said. “Our goal is, through this process, they get to 100 percent.”
“We’re going to use this next period to continue with the remaining 12 percent … to provide education,” he added. “We’re working with influencers to try to make sure that we’re getting information to them, to include doctors … to include our union partners who have generously agreed to work with us to communicate to the workforce.”
Those who do not have an exemption and fail to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by the deadline will be subject to “progressive discipline,” McDonough said. The discipline will include counseling and education on the vaccine, “implemented at the supervisor and local level.”
“If at the end of that progressive discipline they’ve still chosen to not get vaccinated or get an exemption, they will be separated from Federal service,” McDonough said. “The goal of that discipline is to get people vaccinated. And the last thing we want to do is have to fire trained personnel.”