DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2007 -- (Senate - August 03, 2006)
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Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I thank the chairman and ranking member for taking the time to discuss an issue that is very important to me and to the well-being of our military personnel.
As both of you well know, the military today relies on vaccines as an element of force protection. In order to keep our military healthy and to protect against biological threats, we require personnel to be vaccinated. These vaccines are generally considered to be ``safe'', but they are still drugs that are put into the body. As such, there are always a small number of personnel that have adverse reactions.
These personnel are our responsibility. While serving their Nation, they are required to take these vaccinations. If they are made ill by that requirement, we must give them the best possible care, just as we do for those who lose a limb serving the Nation.
In 2001, Congress recognized that we needed to develop specific expertise for treating these rare and complicated cases and created the vaccine health care centers. Last year, the vaccine health care centers treated 708 personnel. That is a caseload increase of 83 percent since they began operations in 2001.
Today, the centers are unique in the Nation for their expertise in adult vaccinations and adverse reactions to them. They are a critical component of force protection, assuring our military personnel that if they become ill from a mandatory vaccination, they will get adequate care.
Mr. STEVENS. I want to thank my colleague for again raising this important issue. He has been a consistent advocate of our need to care for those injured by mandatory vaccines. The vaccine health care centers are a vital component in regular force protection. The centers help military medical providers administer vaccines in the most effective and safe manner and they provide expert care for that small number of personnel who have complicated adverse reactions.
Mr. BIDEN. I want to also thank my colleague for including $2 million specifically for the vaccine health care centers in the fiscal year 2007 Defense appropriations bill. I believe it was the committee's intent, in a difficult budget year, to show their support for keeping the centers intact pending the GAO report expected in mid-fiscal year 2007. Is that correct?
Mr. STEVENS. Yes. In the past, the centers have been funded with supplemental funds. Last year we provided a portion of the funding in the regular budget and sought to show our support again this year. We understand that in the past, the Army has used supplemental funds to help cover the annual operating costs of all the centers, which is approximately $6 million. This year, we sought to provide some assistance by designating a portion of the regular budget in fiscal year 2007, $2 million, for the vaccine health care centers. It is not meant to be a cap on what can and should be spent.
Mr. BIDEN. I thank my colleague. It was also my understanding, based on discussions during consideration of the last supplemental in the spring, that the military was fully committed to retaining the complete capabilities of the vaccine health care centers in their current form pending the completion of the GAO report.
As my friend knows, Congress would also like to see a plan from the Department of Defense for meeting this need. On this year's Defense authorization bill, the Senate agreed unanimous to my amendment prohibiting the restructuring or downsizing of the current vaccine health care centers until the Department provides Congress with a report outlining their plans to meet the needs of our military personnel for pre- and post-vaccination care over the next decade.
Mr. STEVENS. Again, I agree with my colleague. I understand the Department of the Army has covered the costs of operating all these centers, even though some are located on Air Force and Navy installations. It is my hope that the Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs for the Office of the Secretary of Defense can provide that plan and look at how to support and maintain the vaccine health care centers in a joint setting. It was the committee's understanding that these centers would be fully funded and kept intact pending the report from GAO.
Mr. BIDEN. I would ask both of my friends if they are committed to ensuring that happens?
Mr. STEVENS. Yes.
Mr. INOUYE. Yes.
Mr. BIDEN. I thank my colleagues for their assistance. I hope that next year we will have a comprehensive and useful GAO report and a DOD report that will help us ensure that we are meeting the unique force protection needs created by mandatory vaccinations in the best possible way. Until then, I greatly appreciate their commitment to ensuring that we do not lose the capabilities that have been established to date and are regularly utilized by our military personnel.