Remember the Veterans Health Care Crisis?

Here’s what Congress needs to do to push reform legislation over the final hump before campaign season hits.

 Corporal Arnold Franco, who served in the United States Army from 1943 to 1945 rides in a vehicle during the Veteran's Day Parade on November 11, 2013 in New York City.
National Journal
Stacy Kaper
July 6, 2014, 4:42 p.m.

Hav­ing so far failed to com­plete re­form le­gis­la­tion in­ten­ded to en­sure vet­er­ans don’t die wait­ing for health care, law­makers re­turn fa­cing sig­ni­fic­ant un­fin­ished busi­ness to show voters ac­tion be­fore they go home to cam­paign in Au­gust.

The House and Sen­ate are un­der the gun to show a re­sponse to re­ports that vet­er­ans have been left lan­guish­ing for months on secret wait­ing lists for med­ic­al treat­ment, or nev­er even get­ting onto such lists. Vet­er­ans are a pop­u­lar con­stitu­ency that neither party can af­ford to ig­nore, so the pres­sure is on to de­liv­er something law­makers can cam­paign on, be­fore elec­tion sea­son heats up.

But mem­bers serving on a joint House and Sen­ate con­fer­ence com­mit­tee, tasked with hash­ing out vet­er­ans re­form le­gis­la­tion, made little head­way be­fore re­cess.

The 28 com­mit­tee mem­bers agreed they are com­mit­ted to a bi­par­tis­an solu­tion that will make it easi­er for vet­er­ans to re­ceive the care they de­serve. But sev­er­al — par­tic­u­larly Re­pub­lic­ans — re­main hung up over con­cerns about es­tim­ates from the non­par­tis­an Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice that the re­forms could cost as much as $50 bil­lion a year.

The le­gis­la­tion would make it easi­er to re­move in­com­pet­ent Vet­er­ans Af­fairs De­part­ment lead­ers. It also aims to en­sure vet­er­ans re­ceive more timely care, in­clud­ing by let­ting vet­er­ans who live more than 40 miles from a VA health cen­ter seek care from private pro­viders.

But law­makers largely do not want to be seen doub­ling the gov­ern­ment’s cost of VA health care to achieve this goal.

Be­fore re­cess, at the only pub­lic meet­ing of the con­fer­ence com­mit­tee, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who serves as the rank­ing mem­ber on the Sen­ate Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, blas­ted the CBO num­bers, call­ing the agency’s as­sump­tions “ludicrous” and chal­len­ging it to back them up.

Since then mem­bers and staff have met be­hind closed doors with CBO of­fi­cials, ask­ing for a jus­ti­fic­a­tion of its as­sump­tions. CBO has ar­gued that be­cause the le­gis­la­tion aims to im­prove ac­cess to VA health care and min­im­ize wait times, vet­er­ans are likely to in­crease the amount of care they re­ceive from the VA. And vet­er­ans who do not cur­rently rely on the VA are also more likely to en­roll in it and seek out this be­ne­fit.

Cur­rently about 8 mil­lion of roughly 21 mil­lion vet­er­ans are en­rolled in VA health care; of those, about 6. 5 mil­lion take ad­vant­age of it. CBO es­tim­ated that an­oth­er 8 mil­lion eli­gible vet­er­ans might seek ac­cess to VA health care be­cause of the im­prove­ments to its ac­cess that would be made through the le­gis­la­tion.

But some con­fer­ence com­mit­tee mem­bers are balk­ing, chal­len­ging these pre­dic­tions. They are ask­ing CBO and the VA to come up with new es­tim­ates of what the le­gis­la­tion would cost if ad­di­tion­al re­stric­tions or lim­it­a­tions were placed on the ex­pan­ded ac­cess to health care in a fi­nal bill.

“The first or­der of busi­ness is for VA and CBO to pro­duce in­form­a­tion re­gard­ing cer­tain costs and con­sid­er­a­tions as­so­ci­ated with pos­sible re­form per­muta­tions,” said a con­gres­sion­al aide fa­mil­i­ar with the ne­go­ti­ations.

No ad­di­tion­al form­al meet­ings of the full roster of con­fer­ees have been set, but in­di­vidu­al mem­bers and staff con­tin­ue to dis­cuss ways to whittle down the pro­jec­ted costs of the re­form.

Law­makers say they are com­mit­ted to hash­ing out a com­prom­ise bill and get­ting it through both cham­bers and to the pres­id­ent’s desk as quickly as pos­sible. But sources track­ing the ne­go­ti­ations ar­gue the cost wrinkles could take a while to iron out, mak­ing the Au­gust re­cess the next big dead­line for com­ple­tion.

“What needs to hap­pen is the con­fer­ees need to agree upon the size and scope and cost “¦ as well as some of the oth­er ini­ti­at­ives in the bill,” said Robert Norton, a deputy dir­ect­or of gov­ern­ment re­la­tions with the Mil­it­ary Of­ficers As­so­ci­ation of Amer­ica. “Our biggest con­cern is that they need to get it done. They need to make sure that vet­er­ans get ac­cess and are not stuck on these wait­ing lists for months on end.”

What We're Following See More »
“MUST NEVER BE PRESIDENT”
Elizabeth Warren Goes After Donald Trump
6 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

In a stark contrast from Michelle Obama's uplifting speech, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke about the rigged system plaguing Americans before launching into a full-throated rebuke of GOP nominee Donald Trump. Trump is "a man who has never sacrificed anything for anyone," she claimed, before saying he "must never be president of the United States." She called him divisive and selfish, and said the American people won't accept his "hate-filled America." In addition to Trump, Warren went after the Republican Party as a whole. "To Republicans in Congress who said no, this November the American people are coming for you," she said.

FLOTUS OFFERS STRONG ENDORSEMENT OF CLINTON
Michelle Obama: “I Trust” Hillary Clinton
26 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

"In this election, and every election, it's about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives," Michelle Obama said. "There is only one person who I trust with that responsibility … and that is our friend Hillary Clinton." In a personal and emotional speech, Michelle Obama spoke about the effect that angry oppositional rhetoric had on her children and how she chose to raise them. "When they go low, we go high," Obama said she told her children about dealing with bullies. Obama stayed mostly positive, but still offered a firm rebuke of Donald Trump, despite never once uttering his name. "The issues a president faces cannot be boiled down to 140 characters," she said.

SANDERS BACKER CONFRONTS STUBBORN SANDERS SUPPORTERS
Sarah Silverman to Bernie or Bust: “You’re Being Ridiculous”
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Many Bernie Sanders delegates have spent much of the first day of the Democratic National Convention resisting unity, booing at mentions of Hillary Clinton and often chanting "Bernie! Bernie!" Well, one of the most outspoken Bernie Sanders supporters just told them to take a seat. "To the Bernie-or-bust people: You're being ridiculous," said comedian Sarah Silverman in a brief appearance at the Convention, minutes after saying that she would proudly support Hillary Clinton for president.

‘INEXCUSABLE REMARKS’
DNC Formally Apologizes to Bernie Sanders
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

The Democratic National Committee issued a formal apology to Bernie Sanders today, after leaked emails showed staffers trying to sabotage his presidential bid. "On behalf of everyone at the DNC, we want to offer a deep and sincere apology to Senator Sanders, his supporters, and the entire Democratic Party for the inexcusable remarks made over email," DNC officials said in the statement. "These comments do not reflect the values of the DNC or our steadfast commitment to neutrality during the nominating process. The DNC does not—and will not—tolerate disrespectful language exhibited toward our candidates."

Source:
STILL A ‘SAFE SEAT’
DCCC Won’t Aid Wasserman Schultz
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

The chairman of the DCCC said Debbie Wasserman Schultz won't be getting financial help from the organization this year, even as she faces a well-funded primary challenger. "Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) said the committee’s resources will be spent helping Democrats in tough races rather than those in seats that are strongholds for the party." Executive Director Kelly Ward added, “We never spend money in safe seats."

Source:
×