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VA call center overwhelmed as veterans try to get vaccinated

VA officials say veterans of all ages are calling and preventing senior veterans from getting through, though officials say they don't need appointment if eligible.

SAN ANTONIO — This weekend will be the second Saturday the South Texas Veterans Health Care System is holding a vaccination clinic for senior veterans.

Veterans Affairs officials said the call center and appointment line is overwhelmed with calls, and recently sent out a statement apologizing for the busy signal callers are receiving.

Christophe R. Sandles, the VA Medical Center Director and CEO, said veterans of all ages are calling, tying up the lines, and as a result preventing senior veterans from getting through.

“Folks, tell us, ‘Look I tried to call to make an appointment in advance. I am 70 or 75 years or older, but I just couldn’t get through,’” said Sandles.

Sandles said they are focusing on vaccinating senior veterans as a priority.

“They are one of the highest risk categories for death if they do contract COVID-19. So, we really want to focus on those older populations because of their risk factors,” said Sandles.

Sandles said they have an automated call system that notifies veterans in their database who are eligible to get the vaccine.  When the system makes the call, the veteran on the line is directed to press a phone button and get through to make an appointment.

In addition to the automated system, the VA is hosting a series of three Saturday Vaccine Clinics for senior veterans to attend without an appointment.

“The number can change as the shipments arrive, but we're somewhere within the eight to 9,000 total doses that we've received across the healthcare system,” said Sandles.

Last Saturday was the first vaccine clinic where Sandles said around 1,400 senior veterans over the age of 75 were able to get a vaccine.

He said they were hoping for a higher turnout, but the call center issue could be a reason.

Sandles said veterans that don’t fall under the priority group are also calling incessantly and overwhelming the call center.

“It is making it difficult for those that are in those priority groups to make it through because the lines are being tied up,” said Sandles.

Sandles is asking veterans not in the priority groups to wait until they are eligible before calling the appointment line.

“Our goal is to vaccinate as many veterans as we can, as fast as we can,” said Sandles.  “Help us stay within those guidelines and try to avoid calling us, unless you're in that priority group, you can help us move this along even faster.”

The information for the vaccine clinics scheduled for the next two weekends is below.  If you are not enrolled in the VA, Sandles said they can enroll you when you come for the vaccine.

Saturday, January 16, 2021: Veterans 70 years of age or older

Saturday, January 23, 2021: Veterans 65 year of age or older

The vaccine clinics will be held at two locations:

Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital

Vaccination Clinic, 1st floor

7400 Merton Minter Blvd, San Antonio, 78229

9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Frank M. Tejeda Outpatient Clinic

Vaccination Clinic, 1st floor

5788 Eckert Rd. San Antonio, 78240

9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.