US VA, Pritzker promises solution to veterans initially excluded from sick vaccine lottery


US Department of Veterans Affairs is rolling out patch so more than 89,000 veterans, veterans’ spouses and others who received their COVID vaccines at federal VA facilities have a chance to win the vaccine lottery from Illinois.

Governor JB Pritzker last week announced the Illinois “All In For The Win” lottery promotion, which will provide $ 10 million in cash prizes and scholarships to Illinois vaccinated in July and August. The lottery, funded by federal stimulus dollars, is supposed to be an incentive to boost vaccine uptake in the state after demand has declined in the past two months.

But narrow exceptions to competition eligibility included those who received vaccines at federal facilities like prisons or hospitals in Virginia, saying the federal government could not provide the Illinois Department of Public Health with a list of Illinoisans who were vaccinated at these facilities, and it wasn’t possible for these people to submit immunization records to the IDPH.

However, after veterans – including State Representative Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego) – raised the issue with Pritzker’s office, the administration asked the VA to help them find a fix.

Kifowit did not blame the Pritzker administration on Monday, but said leaving thousands out of the lottery was likely “an indication that … enough veterans are in elected office.” She also pointed to state and federal systems that do not communicate well with each other – an issue that goes far beyond immunization records.

“When the state is not used to interacting with the separate systems of veterans, this communication breakdown can occur, which could leave veterans by the wayside,” Kifowit said.

A VA spokesperson confirmed to NPR Illinois on Monday that the agency was working with the Pritzker administration on a fix.

“VA officials are meeting today with the State of Illinois to work out our plan to get our data to them as quickly as possible,” VA spokesperson Gary Kunich said in an email.

Because the VA vaccination records cannot be broken down with the general health records of veterans and spouses, the VA will instead assign each of the 89,000 people vaccinated at Illinois VA facilities a random number. and will give this list to the state to protect the privacy of veterans. The list will be updated regularly as more veterans and others receive their COVID snapshots at these locations.

The list of random numbers will be mixed with the names of approximately 7.4 million Illinois 12 years and older who have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, which is tracked in the I-CARE vaccine registry of the IDPH – a platform for sharing immunization records that long predated the pandemic. If a random number from the list is chosen as the winner of any of the 63 vaccine lottery draws this summer, the IDPH and the VA will work together to notify the veteran winner.

The VA piloted the same fix for the Colorado vaccine lottery already this month, and said Monday the agency is now ready to “move to any state that has a vaccine lottery.” Some states, like Ohio – which announced the nation’s first vaccine lottery last month – have made their lotteries a membership process, but states like Illinois have made lottery eligibility automatic for all residents vaccinated. Washington state sidestepped the federal hurdle by announcing that the military and veterans would get their own vaccine lottery.

The first draw of a summer lottery is scheduled for July 8, and to be eligible to win the initial $ 1 million draw, Illinoisians must get their first COVID shot by July 1. Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said the administration believes the VA may transfer the list of anonymized numbers representing veterans and others vaccinated at VA facilities to the state before that date.

Among the parties that have pushed for a change to the original Illinois Vaccine Lottery exemption is the Illinois Association Of County Veterans Assistance Commissions, which represents 52 local government units responsible for connecting ex-combatants with services and defending their interests.

The Illinois Association Of County Veterans Assistance Commissions was disappointed to learn that veterans who gave up their places in their respective counties to release vaccines for citizens of the state were initially excluded from the COVID lottery of the ‘State,’ IACVAC chairman and Peoria VAC County Superintendent Michael Brooks said in a statement Monday. “We are grateful that the US Department of Veterans Affairs has stepped in to ensure that veterans can be included. We hope that in the future this state will pay more attention to veterans and not inadvertently exclude or otherwise. Veterans “

Kifowit, a Marine Corps veteran, did not receive her COVID vaccines at a VA site, but said it would be “phenomenal” for a veteran to win one of the vaccine lottery draws.

“I think it would be amazing,” Kifowit said. “Whoever wins, it’s going to be life changing.”

The lottery is offering three prizes of $ 1 million at the start and end of the contest, and will also draw 40 names for prizes of $ 100,000 for ages 18 and over.

Vaccinated youth aged 12 to 17 are eligible for 20 scholarships valued at $ 150,000 each. According to the VA, some children in this age group are eligible for vaccines at VA centers if they are receiving benefits through a deceased or disabled veteran parent, or if they are helping care for a veteran.

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