The House unanimously passed legislation on Tuesday to let veterans get care outside Veterans Affairs facilities and avoid long wait times.
The Veterans Access to Care Act, which was introduced by Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican, passed the House 421-0. The plan from the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee would let veterans go to an outside provider if they waited longer than 30 days for an appointment or lived more than 40 miles from a Veterans Affairs facility. Similar to a bill currently awaiting a vote in the Senate, the provision would expire in two years.
“With more than 57,000 veterans waiting for care, the VA crisis is nothing short of a national emergency and requires immediate action from both the House and Senate,” Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said in a statement. “These veterans have already waited too long for the benefits and treatment they have earned, and Senate Democrats should not force them to wait any longer.”
Mr. Miller’s bill also bans bonuses for all VA employees through fiscal 2016, mandates reporting to the congressional veterans committees and requires the Office of Management and Budget to let officials use any savings from lost bonuses within the department.
The House has already passed a bill that would give the next VA secretary more power to fire executives who are doing a bad job.
Sens. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, and John McCain, Arizona Republican, have introduced a bill in the Senate that would let veterans seek outside care and gives the secretary more firing power, though it includes an expedited appeal process that the House bill lacks.
The Senate bill also allows the department to lease 26 new facilities across the country and provides $500 million to hire more doctors and nurses. The bill also includes provisions to help veterans more broadly by expanding G.I. Bill benefits.