Senate Bill 1203 Is Not Going To Force Vaccines On Veterans, But It Will Do This

Just as the scare over Senate Bill 1203, entitled “21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery and Other Improvements Act,” was starting to die down, fears have been fueled again that the piece of legislation will require veterans who want to receive benefits or healthcare to submit to mandatory vaccinations.

An article in Activist Post alleges that SB 1203 is a means to force people who once served in the military to become vaccinated. The article alleges that this group will lose their inherent right to opt out of receiving vaccinations if this bill passes.

“A Bill has just passed the US Senate, mandating that the US Department of Veteran Affairs ensure that all veterans receive immunizations (vaccines) per a draconian schedule. At this juncture, active military must receive over a dozen vaccines. This piece of legislation is therefore an effort to extend the vaccine mandate to those who have previously served their country.

“Sec. 101 of Senate Bill 1203, named the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act, states that the Department of Veterans Affairs will be tasked with the mandate to ‘ensure that veterans receiving medical services under chapter 17 of title 38, United States Code, receive each immunization on the recommended adult immunization schedule at the time such immunization is indicated on that schedule.'”

The part of SB 1203 that is fueling the fears is the wording in a particular area of the proposed legislation. The wording seems to indicate, if taken out of context, that SB 1203 will require veterans to be vaccinated according to the Recommended Adult Immunization Schedule.

“Not later than two years after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall submit to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the House of Representatives a report on the development and implementation by the Department of Veterans Affairs of quality measures and metrics, including targets for compliance, to ensure that veterans receiving medical services under chapter 17 of title 38, United States Code, receive each immunization on the recommended adult immunization schedule at the time such immunization is indicated on that schedule.”

In context though, the phrase has to do with updating Chapter 17 of Title 38 the United States Code. Title 38 is about veterans’ benefits. Chapter 17 is about hospital, nursing home, domiciliary, and medical care benefits. SB 1203 won’t require vaccination in order to be eligible for benefits, but it will expand and improve access for veterans to all of the immunizations they are entitled to as a covered service.

As a covered preventative service, instead of the current benefit of “immunizations against infectious disease,” SB 1203 would make the VA benefits cover “immunizations against infectious diseases, including each immunization on the recommended adult immunization schedule at the time such immunization is indicated on that schedule.” This new wording will make it so that veterans will be afforded the right to have access to more vaccines as they are due, instead of waiting around and getting told that a vaccination that they want to get isn’t a covered benefit.

The other issue people have been voicing their concerns over has to do with a change to Section 1704. Section 1704 currently states that a “Preventive health services: annual report” has to be turned in by Halloween every year from the Secretary to the Committees on Veterans’ Affairs of the Senate and House of Representatives and dictates what the report has to include in it each year. The way SB 1203 changes the current legislation is by making it so the Secretary also has to include in this annual report a description of the programs and activities conducted by the VA to “provide veterans each immunization on the recommended adult immunization schedule at the time such immunization is indicated on that schedule.”

It says provide, not force.

Section 1704(1)(A) which is to be amended by SB 1203 will make the Secretary responsible for writing up a report to make them held accountable to offering veterans all the vaccines they wish to have, as long as they are recommended. It is not creating a law by which veterans can be forced to be injected with all of the recommended adult vaccinations.

Title 38 of United States Code is a set of rules that must be followed by the administration and providers in order to ensure that veterans are granted the benefits that they are entitled to. The preventative health services veterans are entitled to also include periodic medical and dental examinations, nutrition education, mental health preventive services, substance abuse prevention services, services to help prevent developing disabilities of a metabolic or degenerative nature, genetic counseling, vision and eye care services, and other services. SB 1203 even has an addition about chiropractic care.

Veterans aren’t denied some health benefits for opting out of others. Title 38 also states that the Secretary can furnish tobacco to veterans receiving hospital or domiciliary care, but it certainly isn’t a requirement that the veterans smoke or chew it, merely because it would be supplied to them if they wanted it, since they have every right to use it.

According to the Veterans Health Administration Handbook, the national policy on healthcare granted to vets still includes giving informed consent and participating in their own health care decisions.

“VHA is committed to providing a health care environment that supports respect for patients and protects their right to autonomous, informed participation in health care decisions. These essential elements of quality health care are formalized in this national policy that establishes a process for informing patients about health care options and obtaining their consent prior to treatment.”

On a VA website discussing preventative care, the following excerpt explains a veteran’s right to their own health choices.

“All preventive services have possible benefits (pros) and harms (cons). Depending on your values and preferences about these benefits and harms, you may wish to receive additional, fewer, or different services from those that are recommended.”

One comment left on Veterans News Now‘s article about the mandatory vaccination scare left by C.C. Kimball pointed out that, even though many veterans are left with lacking care, “misinformation only hinders efforts to improve health care.”

“They are not going to require that everyone gets immunized. They are going to provide immunizations according to the schedule to those veterans who want them. Whoever wrote this article has no idea how to read legislation. No where in the bill does it state veterans will be required to be immunized… it does state the VA must develop a program to provide immunizations,” John Bibler III of Plymouth, Massachusetts, wrote.

There are mandatory vaccination bills in the works around the country that are sure to draw more serious debates over constitutionality pending around the country. Some are specific to healthcare workers, others to school children. H.R. 2232 was introduced in May of 2015, but went nowhere. Lawmakers were flooded with phone calls opposing that bill. That bill aims to amend the Public Health Service Act to make it so that if states want funding for schools, they will require all students in public elementary and secondary schools to be vaccinated in accordance with the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. That bill allowed for only medical exceptions. That bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Health a few days after its introduction, where it has not moved forward to date and has absolutely zero co-sponsors.

While taken out of context, Senate Bill 1203 could be seen as a threat to health liberties. Even the American Legion wants to see it enacted into law, saying, “The 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act would improve the way that benefits claims are processed by the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

[Photo by Billy Hathorn | Wikicommons | CC BY-SA 3.0 | cropped]