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Boozman-backed bill to get vets vaccinated passes

by Frank E. Lockwood | March 21, 2021 at 3:34 a.m.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., departs the Capitol in Washington in this Jan. 25, 2020, file photo.

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation Friday evening authorizing the Department of Veterans Affairs to give covid-19 shots to all veterans, their spouses and caregivers.

The Strengthening and Amplifying Vaccination Efforts to Locally Immunize all Veterans and Every Spouse -- or SAVE LIVES -- Act passed Wednesday in the Senate and the House on Friday.

It now will be forwarded to President Joe Biden for his signature.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., who serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, had championed the measure after hearing from Arkansans that restrictions were complicating vaccination efforts.

"A lot of veterans were refusing to take the shot until their spouse would be eligible," Boozman said after the legislation was filed earlier this month.

In most instances, the spouses already qualified to receive the vaccination from a non-VA professional, Boozman said.

During a committee hearing, acting undersecretary Dr. Richard Stone told Boozman that the department would need "additional legislative relief" before it could provide vaccinations for those who otherwise don't qualify for VA services.

"Maybe that's something the chairman and I can work on," the Arkansan replied.

With help from committee chairman Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and some of his other Senate colleagues, a solution was swiftly drafted, filed and passed without objections, Boozman said.

"This is a great example of how we can work together," he said Friday. "Certainly, veterans issues do not need to be partisan at all. The good thing is that they generally aren't."

The legislation also clears the way for the VA to provide inoculations to veterans who would not otherwise qualify for services.

In a written statement, Tester said the "unanimous passage of our bipartisan bill means we're one step away from ensuring that every veteran, spouse and caregiver in this country has access to a vaccine from VA."

He urged Biden to "sign this bill into law without any delay."

Boozman predicted that the measure, once signed into law, will help expand covid-19 vaccine access.

"The VA is doing a great job of getting veterans inoculated. They've got the apparatus in place. They've got the personnel to handle a lot more numbers than what they're currently doing," Boozman said. "I think this will save lives."

The legislation moved unusually swiftly, passing through Congress in a matter of days.

This isn't the first time, Boozman said, that he's worked with Tester to pass legislation.

The two lawmakers had teamed up to introduce the Deborah Sampson Act designed to remove obstacles to health care services that many women veterans encounter.

Named after a Massachusetts woman who disguised herself as a man so she could serve in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, the legislation was passed as part of a larger piece of veterans legislation.

Then-President Donald Trump signed it on Jan. 5.


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