In late 2020, Seattle’s VA Puget Sound Health Care System contacted community partners, such as homeless shelters, transitional housing programs and permanent housing programs to help get the COVID-19 vaccine directly to Veterans in need, such as those experiencing homelessness or those experiencing housing instability.
These community partners leaned in by conducting vaccination outreach to the Veterans at their sites and prescreening Veterans to determine who was eligible for vaccination. Then, VA Puget Sound Healthcare System worked with partners to bring vaccines on-site that made the vaccinations accessible to anyone who wanted one.
“The process of getting vaccinations into the community was extensive,” said Susie Barnhart, licensed practical nurse at VA Puget Sound Health Care System. “We needed help deciding how many people needed vaccines because we didn’t want to waste any.”
The community-based vaccination sites offered a twofold benefit: Not only making it easier for Veterans to receive the vaccine by eliminating obstacles like the need for transportation or a computer, but VA Puget Sound also provided clinical care to Veterans who either did not have a primary care provider or had not visited their primary care provider in a long time. Health care practitioners at each site were also able to ease any concerns Veterans had about the vaccines.
“Ultimately, it was the Veteran’s decision to get vaccinated,” said Megan Bott, social worker at VA Puget Sound. “But having a provider on hand to provide information about the vaccine helped a lot. One of the doctors even made a video with their child about the vaccine.”
Veteran receives vaccine and community support
Kimethe Hinnant served a little over seven years in the Army before transitioning to a successful career as a special finance manager and car salesman. But Hinnant’s life suddenly took a turn for the worse in 2019 when he learned that he had congestive heart failure. He sought treatment at his local VA medical center. Unable to work and bring in an income, he and his wife needed housing assistance.
“My wife Stacy introduced me to the HUD-VASH program,” said Hinnant. “Without her I wouldn’t have known about the program.”
The Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program is a collaboration between HUD and VA that combines HUD housing vouchers with VA supportive services to help Veterans who are homeless and their families find and sustain permanent housing. Through HUD-VASH, Hinnant was able to secure an apartment at a VA housing program.
“I have a left ventricle assist device that helps my heart to beat,” said Hinnant. “I’m always plugged in and I have backup batteries that last about eight hours. I can’t be homeless now because I have to be plugged in. I will never give up. I will continue to fight.”
Hinnant was interested in being vaccinated against COVID-19, but as the result of three consecutive strokes, he was unable to walk to the room in his building where vaccines were being administered.
“They made it really easy for me,” he said. “They came to my apartment to give me the shot, and they stood here with a stopwatch [for the 15-minute observation period] and made sure I was good to go. They were very professional. It worked out really well.”
Similar scenarios played out at other community vaccination sites. Vaccinations were usually administered in community rooms, with separate rooms used for observation. However, vaccinators and health care providers went directly to any Veteran who could not easily get to the vaccination room.
VA Puget Sound is continuing to work with community partners to ensure that Veterans who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness have access to the vaccine and health care.
“We are seeing some of the Veterans who were vaccinated come into our clinics now,” said Barnhart. “The Veterans are very proud. They recognize us and know that we gave them the vaccinations and we don’t have to worry about them getting sicker.”
For more information
- Learn about the HUD-VASH program and enrollment eligibility at va.gov/homeless/hud-vash.
- Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness should contact the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838).
- Subscribe to the Homeless Programs Office newsletter to receive monthly updates about programs and supportive services for Veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
Shawn Liu is a community engagement coordinator with the VHA Homeless Programs Office.