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House, Senate appear to have deal on VA care

Jul. 28, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By KELLY KENNEDY   |   Comments

WASHINGTON — Top lawmakers appear to have reached a deal on a bipartisan bill that would allow veterans to seek private care if they face long wait lines at Veterans Affairs’ facilities.

An aide close to the negotiations said the compromise addresses both the short- and long-term needs of VA. The aide sought anonymity so as not to pre-empt a formal announcement planned for Monday afternoon.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who heads the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., who heads the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee said they met over the weekend and made “significant progress on legislation to make the VA more accountable, and recruit more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals,” according to a press release from Sanders’ office.

The two sides sparred Thursday after Sanders said they had made progress, then Miller accused Sanders of not being open to what he called a “bipartisan proposal.” Sanders said the proposal was a political ploy and did not include actual negotiation.

The battle began after both the House and the Senate approved bills allowing veterans to go to non-VA doctors and other health providers, with some differences in how the bills would be funded and how many other resources would be included. The legislation is a response to revelations that the VA manipulated records to hide the fact that tens of thousands of veterans were facing long wait times for care. In the wake of the sandal, VA secretary Eric Shinseki resigned in May.

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said earlier this month that he needs $17.6 billion in additional funds over the next three years to address long wait times, better training and more staff.

Republicans have argued that VA needs to be more efficient with the resources they have, while Democrats have argued VA needs more money because the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created more need.

Last week, Gibson told the Senate that VA had been operating based on a budget goal, rather than the needs of the veterans.

— Kennedy writes for USA Today

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