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.
While he does not serve on the Veterans Affairs Committee, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., had been part of the team which was trying to find common ground between the various VA agreements emerging from the Democratic-controlled Senate and the GOP-led House.
Rubio gave Miller high praise for his leadership on the matter after the agreement was announced.
Despite the dysfunction it exhibited at times, its been my honor to serve on this conference committee, Rubio said on Monday night. I also want to take this opportunity to commend Congressman Jeff Miller, the lead Republican negotiator on this committee. Ive known Jeff for many years and had the privilege of working with him in the Florida House. Ive always known that Jeff Miller is the real deal when it comes to public service, and this experience further solidified that impression. Floridas Panhandle, our entire state and all our veterans are fortunate to have Jeff Miller championing their causes.
Rubio also gave the agreement good marks, noting it would allow more veterans increased options to medical care.
This VA reform agreement is an important step forward to begin addressing the dysfunction and incompetence that are plaguing our VA system and hurting our veterans, Rubio said. By providing our veterans with more doctor choices outside the VA system, this takes significant steps to make sure that those who have served our country arent condemned to endless waiting times just to get an appointment.
Rubio weighed in on his proposal to allow the VA secretary to fire incompetent employees. Rubios proposal was included in the final agreement though it has been altered to allow more appeals.
I have fought to reform the VA, and a key part of this fight has been to hold bad managers accountable, Rubio said. After the scandal erupted earlier this year, my biggest priority was to make sure that my legislation making it easier to fire incompetent, negligent or dishonest managers was included in any reform. During the conference committee, Im proud that this provision became even stronger than what the Senate passed earlier this year. Its time to end the shameful VA status quo that has made it easier for bad workers to receive bonuses than get fired.
At the other end of Capitol Hill, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., currently the longest-tenured member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, said she backed the agreement.
The bill includes critical language that I discussed with Senate Chairman Bernie Sanders to ensure the VA has final authority over the care that veterans receive whether at the VA or at non-VA providers, Brown said on Monday night. We need to continue to work with our veteran stakeholders to ensure the VA has all the resources it needs to provide superior health care to our veterans. This includes providing the necessary resources to address the ever increasing population of women veterans.
Brown also insisted the agreement would improve services and wait times for veterans at VA medical centers.
The conference report includes important provisions, including appointing a presidential commission to examine veterans access to health care; creating a task force to make recommendations on updating the scheduling software; and improving access to health care services, such as telemedicine, through the operation of mobile vet centers and mobile medical units, Brown said. These provisions, along with other VA health-care service enhancements, will address the wait time issue and make the improvements necessary to benefit all veterans.
Brown also predicted that the Senate would confirm Robert McDonald, whose nomination sailed through the Veterans Affairs Committee without any opposition, as VA secretary this week.
I look forward to the new VA secretary being confirmed by the Senate this week and I pledge to work with him, the committee and all the veteran service organizations to make sure our vets are getting the high-quality care they were promised and deserve, Brown said. The VA provides quality, timely health care to our veterans. We have a duty to make sure that all those who have defended this country when called upon receive the care they have earned through their service.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org.