The House and Senate Veterans' Affairs committee chairmen have reached a deal on legislation that will address problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), aides to both sides confirmed to CBS News. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., are expected to outline the deal at a news conference Monday.
The two lawmakers released a statement Sunday saying they "made significant progress on legislation to make the VA more accountable and recruit more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals." An aide added that the agreement will "deal with both the short-term and long-term needs of the VA."
The breakthrough comes just days after negotiations to merge the House- and Senate-passed bills dealing with widespread institutional problems at VA hospitals across the country hit a snag. On Friday, Miller unilaterally called a bipartisan meeting that was boycotted by all but one Democrat on the committee tasked with combining the two pieces of legislation. That prompted Sanders to accuse that "the good faith we have shown is simply not being reciprocated by the other side."
The impasse in negotiations revolved around the price and scope of the bill. Republicans say that veterans should have the ability to see private doctors if the nearest VA facility is far away or if wait times are too long. Democrats share that goal, but Sanders has also championed the cause of giving the VA additional funding to hire more doctors, nurses, and medical staff. He proposed infusing the agency with $25 billion over three years.
Republicans think that kind of additional funding is better handled through the normal appropriations process, and Miller wanted a plan that would allocate just $10 billion in emergency funding.
At a hearing last week, the acting VA secretary said the agency will need $17.6 billion dollars over the next three years to meet new patient demand.
If the plan is approved by the bipartisan group of negotiators from both chambers, it will still have to pass both the House and Senate. Both chambers are expected to adjourn at the end of this week for a five-week recess.