Federal privacy laws blocking VA-vaccinated veterans from using state’s Excelsior Pass app: Your Stories

Your Stories

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — A federal law to protect medical privacy is blocking people vaccinated by Veterans Affairs hospitals from using New York’s Excelsior Pass, a digital vaccine record app.

Scott Shannon, a Navy veteran who lives in the Town of Clay, contacted NewsChannel 9’s Your Stories team after he was unable to access records of his vaccinations in the state’s Excelsior Pass app.

The app allows people to load their vaccine record onto their smart phone as proof, if required. Each person’s app creates a custom code that’s scannable by organizations checking vaccine status.

After it didn’t work, Shannon, who needs vaccine proof to work his retirement job at SUNY Oswego hockey games, called the state program’s help desk.

In an interview with NewsChannel 9, he recalled the conversation after a customer service clerk’s several attempts at finding his record: “She goes ‘I still can’t find anything that you’re vaccinated in New York.’ She goes ‘Where do you get it?’ I told her the Syracuse VA. That’s when she had her moment. She goes: ‘Ahhh! That explains everything.'”

Simply, the federal government doesn’t allow the VA system to automatically share its records with state governments. Each veteran has to approve it.

The law is “38 U.S. Code § 5701 – Confidential nature of claims.”

Shannon is asking for one of two options: either the federal government develops its own app or shares the information.

After contacting federal and state leaders, he said, “Somebody should know. We tried reaching out to some people in the government. Nobody seemed to really… That’s so far on the backburner.”

Acknowledging the information is not shared with state governments, a spokesperson for the Syracuse VA writes: “Each Veteran that we vaccinate is issued a COVID Vaccination record card that lists the dates and VA location Veteran was vaccinated. That information is also entered in the Veterans Medical Record.”

He adds that veterans can also access their information online.

Shannon has been bringing his hard-copy card instead and will continue to, but prefers to use the app for ease and as a back-up.

As of Thursday, Governor Kathy Hochul has issued an executive order that directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to share its New York vaccination records with the State Health Department.

The VA hasn’t yet said if the state order will be recognized by the federal government.

State Senate Minority Leader, Senator Rob Ortt, tells NewsChannel 9:

I am thankful that Governor Hochul has issued an Executive Order to compel the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide the state with its COVID-19 immunization records. I will continue to communicate with our local, state, and federal partners on how best to resolve this accessibility issue for our veterans.

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