Protecting the health and safety of the nation requires everyone to do their part. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, VA has played a vital role in COVID-19 testing, care and prevention. In addition to vaccinating Veterans, VA has offered the vaccine to non-Veterans as part of the Fourth Mission, which includes providing support for national, state and local efforts during public health and other emergencies. This support was evident on June 3, when VA held a COVID-19 vaccination clinic outside its Central Office in Washington, D.C., for anyone – not just Veterans – experiencing homelessness.

“For those people suffering through poverty that are scared to go to shelters, come get vaccinated,” said Kehinde Ogun, a vaccine recipient from Washington, D.C., who is experiencing homelessness. “It’s imperative that you get that shot.”

A woman receives the coronavirus vaccine in front of VA Central Office.

Because vaccination is key to preventing the spread of COVID-19, the event was open to anyone interested in receiving the shot. Among those who accepted the offer were tourists visiting the nation’s capital, staff from nearby restaurants who had been unable to get to a vaccination site during their work hours, as well as people experiencing homelessness.

“This vaccination clinic was originally open to people experiencing homelessness,” said Dr. Paul Kim, executive director of the Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Emergency Management. “But we decided to open it up to anyone because of the importance of getting vaccinated.”

VA’s Fourth Mission encompasses more than public health emergencies. The overall mission is to improve the nation’s preparedness for response to war, terrorism, national emergencies and natural disasters by developing plans and taking actions to ensure continued service to Veterans and the general public throughout the emergency – whatever that emergency may be.

For example, under the Fourth Mission, VA’s Disaster Emergency Personnel System deployed volunteers to New Orleans in response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, to Puerto Rico in 2012 in response to Hurricane Sandy, and to locations hit hard by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017.

Helping communities in need

VA performs Fourth Mission activities daily, and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in admitting more than 480 non-Veteran patients to receive care at VA medical centers and provided nearly 1 million pieces of personal protective equipment – including gowns, gloves, masks, face shields, powered air-purifying respirators, goggles and shoe covers – to state and local governments to help the country heal. 

“No matter what the disaster is, VA will be there in some capacity,” said Dr. Kim. “VA’s Fourth Mission is to help anyone, not just Veterans. If someone comes to our doors and needs help, we’ll make sure to provide that service.”

More Information

  • For more information about COVID-19 vaccines, visit VA’s COVID-19 resource page.
  • To learn more about VHA’s main deployment program for clinical and nonclinical staff to an emergency or disaster, visit VA’s Office of Emergency Management website.
  • 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).

Monica Diaz is the executive director for VHA’s Homeless Programs Office (HPO).

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Published on Jun. 15, 2021

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