The new funds, which will be used over the next three years, come in the aftermath of reports across the nation detailing altered wait lists at VA facilities. As a result, Eric Shinseki resigned his post as VA secretary back in May.
Earlier this week, 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 an agreement to increase funding for VA.
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 designates $5 billion to add more medical personnel to VA centers.
The proposal passed the House 420-5 on Wednesday. Five Republicans -- U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford of Arkansas, Walter Jones of North Carolina, Jack Kingston of Georgia, Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Steve Stockman of Texas -- voted against the measure.
Miller took to the House floor to argue his bill was needed, saying the department was in a crisis and action had to be taken.
Weve come face to face with the problems our veterans routinely encounter and they are considerable, to say the least, Miller said on the House floor on Wednesday. Thousands of veterans across this country have been left to wait, some for years, some in pain and, most disturbingly, some in caskets draped with an American flag.
Miller stressed that his proposal was not merely throwing money at the problem. "It's not a blank check for a broken system," Miller insisted.
The other congressmen from Florida rallied behind Millers proposal.
Audits and investigations have unveiled a horrifying picture of systematic and widespread lack of accountability in the Department of Veterans Affairs' health care system, said U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., on Wednesday, after the vote. People suffered the ultimate consequence of death, and our veterans have had to wait far too long -- sometimes more than 90 days -- to get the health care they earned and deserve.
This situation is horrifying and unacceptable, and theres a great deal of work needed to correct this abysmal record, Crenshaw added. This reform-minded bill takes long-overdue steps to restore confidence and accountability in the VA system. Among them: improved access to care, including the ability to secure private-sector medical care; the hiring of additional doctors and medical staff; structural improvements, new management tools to provide for the firing and demotion of senior VA employees based on performance, and improved benefits for veterans and their families.
Saying the bill was only a first step, Crenshaw added more work had to be done.
There is no quick fix, Crenshaw said. On the road ahead, I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues and the VA as we put a stronger VA system in place for good.
Democrats from Florida also backed the bill, including U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., who is the longest tenured member currently on the Veterans Affairs Committee. Brown took to the House floor to praise the proposal.
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. 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 went out of her way to praise President Barack Obamas handling of veterans issues.
Many people have said that we have given the VA everything they requested, Brown said. Now, I guess some people have short memories, because I remember that in 2009, with a Democratic House, Democratic Senate and Democratic President Obama, was the first time veterans were able to get the budget that they requested. We passed advanced budgeting and gave the VA the largest budget in the history of the department. Under President Barack Obama. I cannot be the only one who remembers that.
It is important to remember how you got where you are, Brown added. As we move forward, it is important to remember who not only talks the talk, but who walks the walk or rolls the roll. It is important for us to remember how we got where we are.
The proposal drew the opposition of the right-of-center Heritage Foundation, saying the VA department would be hard-pressed to transfer some of the monies it is required for more medical spending.
Though the CBOs recent projection reflects a total emergency cost of $10 billion, properly understood, the conference committees solution to the VAs systemic inefficiencies amounts to the creation of a new entitlement that will likely increase at a rapid rate, the Heritage Foundation noted on Wednesday. After the House and Senate passed their respective versions of this legislation, the CBO released a report predicting that the cost of this program would eventually rise to roughly $50 billion per year. This projection was based on the well-founded assumptions about increased utilization by current VA enrollees, as well as increased VA enrollment due to the availability of the external care option. While the final agreement makes some tweaks and compromises on eligibility for the program, it does little to fundamentally alter the size and scope of the program that CBOs previous estimates suggested could generate a $500 billion price tag over the standard 10-year congressional budget window -- that is more expensive than Medicare Part D.
The Miller-Sanders Veterans package not only fails to address the systemic failures at the VA, but it creates an unproven new entitlement that sets taxpayers on a course to spend half a trillion dollars over the next decade, the Heritage Foundation added.
The bill now heads to the U.S. Senate.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com.