Buchanan-Backed Bill Expands Vaccine for Veterans
SARASOTA, Fla – After hearing disturbing reports of local veterans unable to get the COVID vaccine – including a 95-year-old Sarasota man with a pacemaker – Congressman Vern Buchanan announced Monday that he has co-sponsored legislation expanding access to the shot through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
The VA VACCINE Act would provide vaccines to all veterans – including those not currently enrolled in the VA healthcare system, as well as to caregivers who provide essential support to veterans. It would close a loophole in current rules that prohibits VA officials from administering the vaccine to anyone except individuals already registered in department medical care programs. Currently, less than a half of all veterans are enrolled in healthcare services at the VA.
That loophole prevented a decorated World War II Sarasota man, 95-year-old James Stillwell, from receiving the vaccine. His wife and caregiver, 85-year-old Norma, said he was turned away twice because he was not registered with the VA and was not income eligible under the VA guidelines. Under the bill, both Stillwell and his wife as caregiver would be eligible for the shot.
“I want to thank Congressman Buchanan for following up on this,” said Mrs. Stillwell after learning of Buchanan's co-sponsorship. “This would be a godsend for us. I think my husband certainly deserves it having served in WW II with distinction.”
Buchanan said he will work with members from both parties in Congress to win swift passage of the bill given the urgency of protecting veterans. "It's a national disgrace and unacceptable that aging veterans with health conditions are being turned away and denied the vaccine because of a loophole in VA rules," Buchanan said. "We have 70,000 veterans in our region and many are not enrolled in the VA healthcare system."
The bill also was endorsed by several leading veterans groups in the Manatee-Sarasota region:
- Carlos Moreira, president of the Sarasota County Veterans Commission, said, "Our veteran community in Sarasota supports the congressman's bill. In addition, we support the idea of providing vaccination to the caregivers of our older veterans."
- Anthony Hardie of Bradenton, director of Veterans for Common Sense, said, "Unbeknown to most Americans, millions of veterans are not eligible to enroll in VA healthcare due to income limitations or other enrollment factors and only 9 million of our nation's 19.5 million veterans are currently enrolled."
- Edwin Robinson, Chairman of the Manatee Veterans Council said, “It's important that all of our veterans and their caregivers have access to the COVID vaccine. Our veterans deserve nothing less than access to the vaccine as soon as possible.”
The bipartisan bill was introduced last week by House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-CA) and ranking member Mike Bost (R-IL).
Buchanan has a strong record of fighting for veterans and military families. Last Congress, a Buchanan measure to reduce military training accidents following the death of Bradenton soldier Nicolas Panipinto was enacted into law. Earlier this year Buchanan re-introduced the Veterans Overmedication and Suicide Prevention Act, which requires the VA to study the link between addictive opioids and the alarmingly high rate of suicides among veterans.