Congress Reaches an Agreement on VA Reform
Around the State
Leaders from both parties and both chambers announced a deal on Monday on a bill to reform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, announced the deal on Monday afternoon. The agreement designates $10 billion for veterans to seek private care if dealing with extended waits at VA medical centers. Veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA medical center will also be eligible for private care. The agreement also adds more medical personnel to VA centers.
The agreement comes in the aftermath of reports across the nation detailing altered wait lists at VA facilties. As a result, Eric Shinseki resigned his post as VA secretary back in May. Both Sanders and Miller stressed the agreement would lead to veterans getting better access to care.
"The problem we're having with access, we're going to deal with it right now," Sanders told the media on Monday.
"Taking care of our veterans is not an inexpensive proposition, and I think our members understand that," Miller said, adding that he expected some opposition in the House to the agreement.
Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson called on Congress to send $17.6 billion over the next three years to help the department offer medical services to veterans quicker and more effectively. Under the agreement, VA will rely on $12 billion in additional funds and will redirect $5 billion in its current allocations.
Both Sanders and Miller stressed the VA needs a shift in culture to ensure veteran services come first.
“While it is critical to address the current waiting period crisis at the VA, we also must ensure it doesn’t happen again,” Sanders insisted.
In the meantime, Robert McDonald continues to gain traction as he looks to become the new VA secretary. After McDonald passed the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee last week without opposition, Sanders said he expected the full Senate to confirm him this week.
A proposal by Miller and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., allowing the VA secretary to remove incompetent employees without appeal was not included in the final agreement. Instead, Sanders’ proposal allows employees to appeal if fired by the VA secretary.
The agreement is expected to pass both the House and the Senate before the August recess.
U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., Miller’s vice chairman, expressed his approval for the deal on Monday afternoon.
“This agreement will help veterans get more timely access to quality care,” Bilirakis said before pointing to a part of the deal he worked on to help veterans in his district. “It will authorize leases for critical new VA clinics, including a single, consolidated clinic in Pasco County. I am thrilled local veterans will soon have improved access to a new, one-stop VA clinic. To ensure the best possible access to care for Pasco’s veterans, it was important that the Pasco lease was included in the final compromise between the House and Senate.
“Ultimately, this compromise was about providing veterans with timely access to quality care,” Bilirakis added. “The VA has systemic failures that promote a culture of mediocrity and discourage transparency and accountability, which has resulted in a backlog of veterans’ claims and excessive wait times to receive care. This bill will also allow veterans to receive care outside of the VA – if the veteran so chooses, and contains other measures to get these veterans the care they deserve and have earned.”
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