Determined to prove bipartisanship is still alive, lawmakers rolled out legislation Monday to fix the embattled Veterans Affairs Department that includes compromises from both sides of the aisle.
“It goes without saying that we have a VA that is in crisis today. This agreement will go a long way to resolve the crisis,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
The bill provides $17 billion to the VA, a majority of which will go toward expanding access to private health care for veterans outside VA facilities. The legislation also calls for hiring more clinicians, leasing more VA facilities, and making it easier to fire VA staffers.
The conference committee has been working to negotiate a compromise bill between the House and Senate versions, but talks appeared to be all but over at the end of last week. However, lawmakers said Sunday that they had made significant progress over the weekend.
“Congress is very divided right now. The House has its views, and the Senate has its views, and Jeff and I had to work through these things,” said Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Bernie Sanders on Monday, adding that lawmakers have a “moral obligation” to get the legislation passed.
Lawmakers expect the conference committee to sign off on the proposal Monday, in their quest to have the legislation wrapped up by the August recess.
“This VA conference committee legislation “¦ is far from what I would have written if I had to do it alone, and I suspect it’s fair to say that that it’s far from what Chairman Miller would have done,” Sanders said at Monday’s press conference.
The funding proposed Monday is significantly lower than the amount Sanders outlined in legislation last week.
In a back and forth between the House and Senate VA committees Thursday, the Vermont independent took to the Senate floor and said House lawmakers were “not serious about negotiations.” Sanders estimated that his proposal would cost under $25 billion. Sanders’s legislation included money for staffing, infrastructure, information technology, and a two-year program that would increase veterans’ access to non-VA care.
But Miller rolled out a competing proposal at an open conference committee meeting later on Thursday, in which the Florida Republican offered $10 billion to the department to expand veterans’ access to private care and build new facilities.
The VA has been under fire in recent months amid an ever-growing scandal that includes allegations of data manipulation at medical facilities and disability claims offices, and of veterans dying while waiting for care.