Polson man is 10,000th vaccinated Montana veteran
News from MTVAHCS
MISSOULA — U.S. Army and Marine Veteran Kent Stewart drove from Polson to Missoula’s David J. Thatcher VA Clinic to receive his first dose of the Moderna vaccine and in doing so, became the 10,000th Montana Veteran to receive a COVID-19 vaccine from Montana VA Health Care System.
“I have been an anti-vaxer since 2003. I got sick from the anthrax vaccine, which almost killed me,” Stewart said. “My kids were scared. My wife was scared and now since time has passed, I want to set an example for my family to try to get them to quit being such anti-vaxers. It took me a lot of soul-searching to do this — a lot of research. Maybe, I can set an example for my family and for the community and for veterans in general.”
Montana’s elected leaders joined in sharing thank you messages to vaccinated veterans on this milestone:
Montana’s entire congressional delegation of Sen. Jon Tester, Sen. Steve Daines, and Rep. Matt Rosendale also joined MTVAHCS staff in sending a thank you message to vaccinated Montana veterans. Governor Greg Gianforte shared a message recognizing the leadership of Montana’s veterans and encouraged all veterans and Montanans to get their “safe and effective” COVID-19 vaccines.
“Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, veterans have shown Montana what leadership looks like. At first, this was by taking proactive steps to keep themselves and their communities safe, even though taking actions to physically distance and wear masks were not the easiest possible decisions,” said MTVAHCS Executive Director Dr. Judy Hayman. “We celebrate the leadership of the 10,000 veterans who have done their part to end the pandemic and protect themselves, their loved ones, their healthcare teams and their communities.”
Since late December, MTVAHCS has administered just under 19,000 COVID-19 vaccinations and overcome the logistical challenges of administering vaccines to Montana veterans in the fourth largest state in the country (roughly 147,000 square miles in size). This has included vaccine freezer storage, transporting vaccines, staffing vaccine clinics (from schedulers, vaccinators, and staff to disinfect chairs), winter roads and finding local sites to host COVID-19 vaccine events.
From Kalispell to Glendive and Miles City to Butte, MTVAHCS has hosted vaccine clinics at 13 sites across Montana. Through community support, veterans have received COVID-19 vaccines from MTVAHCS in churches, American Legion halls, county fairgrounds, at Montana National Guard sites and in malls. After being selected to lead a Veterans’ Health Administration national pilot program to bring vaccines to rural veterans, MTVAHCS used fixed wing aircraft to transport vaccines. MTVAHCS has also driven vaccines directly to homebound veterans.
Additionally, 100 percent of veteran residents in MTVAHCS’s Miles City Community Living Center (nursing home) have been fully vaccinated since February. Over 80 percent of MTVAHCS staff are vaccinated.
If a Montana veteran’s (enrolled and unenrolled) spouse and caregivers have not yet received their COVID-19 vaccine, they are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines through MTVAHCS. Under the SAVE Lives Act (also known as H.R. 1276), which was signed into law on March 23, the VA’s legal authority to provide COVID-19 vaccines expanded to include all veterans, regardless of their VA healthcare enrollment status, as well as veteran spouses, caregivers and some beneficiaries.
To schedule an appointment:
1. Enrolled veterans should call 877-468-8387 and select option two, and then option two to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment.
2. Non-enrolled veterans, their spouses and/or caregivers, and CHAMPVA recipients will need to sign up online to register to receive a vaccine at https://www.va.gov/health-care/covid-19-vaccine/sign-up/introduction. Once registered, MTVAHCS staff will then contact each individual to schedule a vaccine appointment. Walk-in appointments are also available at most MTVAHCS vaccine clinics.
Currently, 47,000 Montana Veterans are eligible to receive healthcare through MTVAHCS. Veterans are cared for by a staff of 1,400 at 17 sites of care across the state. One third of Montana VA employees are veterans.
Veterans can follow COVID-19 vaccination updates at MTVAHCS’s webpage, Facebook (@VAMontana), or Twitter (@VAMontanaHCS). If a veteran has questions about receiving the vaccine, they can send their healthcare team a secure message through MyHealtheVet or call 877-468-8387 (option two) to set up a time to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine. Any veteran who has received a COVID-19 vaccine from a community (non-VA ) provider is encouraged to notify their MTVAHCS healthcare team to have their records updated.