Erie County Veterans ask Governor Hochul for access to Excelsior Pass

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Those who received their Covid shot at VA Hospitals are unable to access the vaccine passport because of federal and state laws

ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. (WIVB) — Some veterans who received their Covid-19 vaccine at VA hospitals have run into issues when trying to utilize the New York State Excelsior app. John Stiegler, from Cheektowaga, is one of them.

“I was on the state website, and I thought I was doing something wrong,” said Stiegler. “I finally called them up, and they said ‘the reason you can’t get it, or we don’t recognize it is because you guys are vaccinated at the VA hospital.'”

It’s federal and state laws that are creating the problem, not the VA hospitals. Federal law prohibits the VA from sharing veterans’ health information with state health authorities unless mandated by state law. Right now, New York State does not have any laws which have that mandate.

After getting the Covid-19 vaccine a physical government-issued card is given. But bringing it from place to place makes Steigler uneasy.

“I travel a lot, and I wanted to carry not only the card because I’m afraid I’m going to lose it,” he said. “I have a copy of the card on my telephone, but they won’t accept that at the Bills games or at Key Bank Arena.”

Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns and State Senator Rob Ortt are calling on Governor Kathy Hochul to take corrective action on behalf of the veterans.

“I understand that not everyone agrees with the requirements of a vaccine pass, and I get that. However, I hope that New York State moves quickly to resolve this roadblock, so veterans who want this choice have proper access to the Excelsior Pass,” said Kearns.

The legislative session will not meet again until January unless Governor Hochul calls for a special session.

“New York State was the first-in-the-nation to launch digital COVID-19 health credentials and Governor Hochul remains committed to empowering individuals and organizations—in New York State and nationwide—with access to a free, verifiable, privacy-preserving copy of their vaccination records in paper and digital form. Building on this commitment, we are actively working to ensure more entities outside of New York State’s jurisdiction are reporting into the State and City databases,” a spokesperson for Governor Hochul told News 4.  “We have provided a path for New York residents vaccinated outside of New York State to obtain their Pass through their health care provider. In addition, we continue to urge our federal partners to participate, and will continue to work with them to identify and implement potential solutions to bridge any data gaps. This will enable us to securely provide more New Yorkers, including our veterans, with access to Excelsior Pass.”

Abby Fridmann is an anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in November 2020. See more of her work here.

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