WASHINGTON – A bipartisan deal announced Monday would authorize about $17 billion to help veterans avoid long waits for health care, hire more doctors and nurses to treat veterans and make it easier to fire executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
An agreement announced by the chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees is intended to fix a veterans' health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays.
The bill includes $10 billion in emergency spending to make it easier for veterans who can't get prompt appointments with VA doctors to obtain outside care; $5 billion to hire doctors, nurses and other medical staff; and about $1.5 billion to lease 27 new clinics across the country, lawmakers said.
The bill also would expand a scholarship program for veterans, allow all vets to qualify for in-state college tuition and give the VA secretary authority to immediately fire senior executives, while giving employees streamlined appeal rights.
“This bill makes certain that we address the immediate crisis of veterans being forced onto long waiting lists for health care,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs panel.
Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2nd, the only Hoosier lawmaker on the conference committee, said the legislation “demonstrates that regardless of politics or party, we can unite to pass meaningful reforms that will improve the quality of life for our nation's veterans. The VA is unable and unwilling to reform itself. Today is one more step in the right direction towards helping our vets get the best care they deserve.”
The compromise measure, agreed to after over six weeks of talks, would require the VA to pay private doctors to treat qualifying veterans who can't get prompt appointments at the VA's nearly 1,000 hospitals and outpatient clinics, or those who live at least 40 miles from one of them.
Only veterans who are enrolled in VA care as of Aug. 1 or live at least 40 miles away would be eligible to get outside care.