- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 27, 2014

The House and Senate’s top negotiators reached a tentative deal on legislation to fix the Veterans Affairs Department health care system and are expected to announce the details Monday afternoon.

The compromise bill will address the “short-term and long-term needs of the VA,” according to an aide to Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent and the Democrats’ lead negotiator on the deal.

Mr. Sanders will give details of the tentative agreement with Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican, on Monday afternoon, according to a statement from the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees.


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Miller and Sanders continued negotiations this weekend and made significant progress on legislation to make the VA more accountable and recruit more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals,” the statement said.

The conference committee of House and Senate negotiators will need to vote on the compromise agreement before it heads to each chamber for a final vote.

**FILE** House Veterans Affairs' Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, Florida Republican, leaves a Republican caucus meeting, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, July 25, 2014, on the influx of illegal immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. With Congress scheduled to recess in a week, Miller and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, have offered competing proposals to fix the veterans' health care program that has been scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up the delays. (Associated Press)
**FILE** House Veterans Affairs’ Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, Florida Republican, leaves a ... more >

Lawmakers are operating under a tight time frame, as Congress leaves Washington at the end of the week for a monthlong vacation.


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The House and Senate both passed legislation earlier this year that would let veterans seek care outside the VA if they had to wait too long for an appointment or lived too far from a VA facility. The bills also gave the secretary more firing power over poorly-performing top level executives.

The Senate bill also addressed other issues such as changes to the G.I. Bill and sexual assault resources.

Lawmakers argued about the cost of the bills, which reached about $44 billion for the House bill and $35 billion for the Senate plan.

Many Democrats argued that because the money was emergency spending based on the nation’s responsibility to take care of its veterans, budget rules requiring that spending increases be offset should not apply. However, Republicans want to offset the increase in VA money with spending cuts elsewhere.

A compromise seemed doomed last week when Mr. Miller called a meeting of the conference committee Thursday and Mr. Sanders refused to attend, calling it a political stunt.

Each side presented its own plan: the House proposal would offer $10 billion up front, with the VA coming to Congress for oversight when it needs more money, while the Senate plan would cost $25 billion, with $3.3 billion offset.

Despite that, Mr. Sanders said he was still hopeful they could reach a deal, noting that most lawmakers know it would be a bad idea to leave veterans without help.

Internal reviews of the VA have showed that the department would need about $17 billion through 2017 to provide veterans timely, high-quality care.

The VA has been under fire since this spring when a whistleblower revealed at least 40 veterans died while waiting for care on a secret list at a Phoenix, Arizona facility. Since then, internal reviews have proved the problem of fake waiting lists is widespread throughout the VA health care system.