Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough is expanding his previous COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The expanded order, which will be announced Friday, will give “most” Veterans Health Administration employees, volunteers, and contractors eight weeks to provide proof of vaccination or face termination.

“We’re now including most VHA employees and volunteers and contractors in the vaccine mandate because it remains the best way to keep Veterans safe, especially as the Delta variant spreads across the country,” McDonough said in a release.

Under the upcoming expanded vaccine mandate, employees who will now be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination include Hybrid Title 38 employees and Title 5 VA personnel.

These include psychologists, pharmacists, social workers, nursing assistants, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, peer specialists, medical support assistants, engineers, housekeepers, and other clinical, administrative, and infrastructure support employees who encounter VA patients and healthcare workers.

According to the VA, the expanded VA vaccine mandate has support from numerous medical organizations, including the American Hospital Association, America’s Essential Hospitals, the American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American College of Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, and Association of American Medical Colleges.

The expansion follows a July 26 mandate from the VA requiring proof of vaccination for Title 38 employees. Physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants, expanded-function dental auxiliaries, and chiropractors — who work in Veterans Health Administration facilities, were also given eight weeks to show proof of vaccine or lose their jobs.

While VA employees who do not show proof of vaccination risk losing their jobs under the mandates, the VA is also incentivizing taking a vaccine. All employees are eligible to receive a COVID vaccine free of charge from the department. Additionally, the VA offers four hours of paid administrative leave after an employee demonstrates they are vaccinated.

The move comes amid a recent increase in both cases of and deaths from COVID both nationally and among VA employees and veterans. As of July 11, the VA reported 1,489 active cases tested or treated at a VA facility and 12,299 total deaths from COVID among VA patients who tested positive for the disease. As of Aug. 12, those numbers had increased to 10,101 active cases and 12,950 deaths.

“This pandemic is not over, and VA must do everything in our power to protect Veterans from COVID-19. With this expanded mandate, we can once again make—and keep—that fundamental promise,” McDonough said.

James R. Webb is a rapid response reporter for Military Times. He served as a US Marine infantryman in Iraq. Additionally, he has worked as a Legislative Assistant in the US Senate and as an embedded photographer in Afghanistan.

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