Congress Calls on Florida Delegation to Work Out Final Details of VA Reform Bill

By: Kevin Derby | Posted: June 20, 2014 3:55 AM
Marco Rubio and Corrine Brown

Marco Rubio and Corrine Brown

This week the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House agreed to hammer out their differences over legislation to reform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the conference committee has a distinctly Florida feel. 

U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., one of the leading Democrats on the Veterans Affairs Committee, will be on the committee on the House side. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., will be representing the upper chamber.

Both versions of the legislation respond to the recent reports of altered waiting lists at VA medical facilities across the country which led to the resignation of Sec. Eric Shinseki. The bills would give veterans options to pursue private health care if they have to wait too long for VA treatment and would give the VA secretary more room to fire incompetent employees.

But there are some minor differences between the two versions, with the Senate option adding more VA medical centers across the nation and both sides offering different takes on how much the cost would be for giving veterans more private care options.

Despite not serving on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Rubio was tapped by Republican leadership due to his role in sponsoring the Senate bill giving the VA secretary more power to remove bad employees.

“The VA is in desperate need of reform and accountability, and I look forward to being part of this effort to resolve outstanding policy differences and produce a final law that starts making a real difference for our veterans,” said Rubio on Wednesday. “Our veterans have been wronged by the abuses, incompetence, and inhumane and unresponsive health care that have come to light in the recent wave of VA scandals.

“The legislation we’re working on includes many important first steps we can take to honor our veterans with the care they need, and I hope we can get something done quickly,” Rubio added. “I look forward to being a voice at the negotiating table for Florida’s 2 million veterans, as well as all veterans across the country.”

Brown also said she was happy to be on the conference committee.

“I am extremely pleased to have been selected as a House conferee for the Veterans Access to Care Act, as the House works with the Senate on a final bill to be voted on in each body, and signed into law by President Obama,” Brown said. “As the senior member on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, I pledge to work hard with my colleagues to ensure that our nation’s veterans are getting the care they were promised and deserve.

“In 2009, I led the charge when the Congress increased the VA budget to its highest level in history, which guaranteed veterans’ health care Advanced Appropriations so our veterans would not be subject to the whims of politics on Capitol Hill,” Brown added. “I have been an ardent supporter for many years of the idea of the VA partnering with community organizations to bring the best possible care to these defenders of freedom, but Congress needs to work with VA, veterans service organizations, and community partners to get our veterans in to VA health care as soon as possible. This bill, once signed into law, will assist the VA to provide our veterans with timely access to medical care.”

There is no formal timetable in place but the conference committee is expected to meet in the coming days.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatnews.com.

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