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A 79-year-old Florida veteran tells Fox News he is feeling “offended” and “disrespected” after his local Veterans Affairs (VA) clinic turned him away from receiving a shot of the coronavirus vaccine because he makes too much of an income.
Seymour Kagan, who rose to the rank of captain in the U.S. Army before being honorably discharged in 1969, is among a group of military veterans in the Sunshine State who are reporting barriers to getting dosages of the vaccine from VA clinics. Under federal law, how much money a veteran makes annually is one of the factors in determining whether they are eligible to receive its cost-free services, the VA says.
“The president or someone in the VA should change the rule to reflect the pandemic and enlarge the vaccination program to any veteran,” Kagan, a retired lawyer from Sarasota, told Fox News on Friday. “This would have the added benefit of increasing the distribution of the vaccine at a faster rate rather than going through the states — it would also reduce the demand on the states of those people who are veterans who would get the shot directly through the VA clinic.”
Seymour Kagan’s mother and father pin his second liutentant bars on his uniform following his graduation from Rutgers University’s ROTC program in 1963. His uncle, in the background, looks on. (Courtesy Seymour Kagan)
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Kagan says his vaccine saga began in mid-January when he talked with a fellow veteran who said he had received the shot from the VA. Kagan said he then went to his local clinic in Sarasota with the hope of obtaining one himself.
After filling out paperwork, Kagan says he was told over the phone days later that he was not qualified to receive the vaccine there on the basis that his annual income exceeded the VA’s local limit. In Sarasota County, that figure starts at $43,670 for a single veteran and then scales upward based on the number of their dependents.
He then showed up at the location again in-person — this time, to speak to the supervisor in charge of its vaccination program. But Kagan says staff at the facility gave him a similar answer.
“I felt disrespected. It’s fine to hear words like ‘thank you for your service’ and they all say that, it’s a mantra,” he told Fox News. “But when it comes to the actual practical assistance to a veteran, I’m 79 years old… I have certain respiratory limitations… I felt that if I needed the vaccine then and that’s the public policy, they should open it up to any veteran who has received an honorable discharge, regardless of their income.”
The VA Clinic in Sarasota, Fla. (Google Maps)
In a statement to Fox News Thursday, the VA says it’s “focusing efforts on the allotment of vaccines we have received for enrolled, eligible Veterans who are listed in our highest risk categories,” but that it’s also “working with the White House and FEMA to explore ways in which VA can assist with the Nation’s vaccination efforts, to include covering Veterans not currently enrolled for VA health care.”
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“Consistent with our legal authority and supply of vaccine, VA would like to vaccinate as many Veterans possible,” it added.
Kagan says he has been unsuccessful in trying to get a vaccine shot elsewhere, including through popular Florida grocer Publix.
And he’s not the only veteran to share this kind of experience.
Paul Jacobs, a 91-year-old Army veteran, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in mid-January that a VA clinic in West Palm Beach turned him away — also because of his income.
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“It’s not fair that they turned us away,” he said to the newspaper, adding that he was one of 16 veterans denied eligibility for the vaccine during a walk-up event held over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. “It was just a shame that veterans were discriminated against because of their income.”
Bob Hulsy, a 76-year-old U.S. Navy veteran from Fort Lauderdale who served during the Vietnam War, also said he was turned away, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
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“Too much income, no shot,” he said.
Kenita Tills, a public affairs officer for the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center, told the newspaper that she knows people are “frustrated,” but “this rule is set by Congress. It’s not a decision made at the local level.”
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