It looked like a compromise VA reform bill was in deep trouble after the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committee chairmen clashed publicly on Thursday after weeks of negotiating behind closed doors.
But Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, made up Thursday evening, and agreed to continue working on compromise legislation. Their staffs worked through the weekend to come up with a bill that reconciles many of the major features of the House and Senate bills.
Here are the details:
- The bill allows veterans who have been waiting more than 30 days for treatment or who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility to seek treatment from a private physician.
- It provides the VA with $10 billion in emergency funds, principally to cover the cost of veterans who will be seeking treatment at private clinics and hospitals. Because this is considered emergency funding, it will not need to be offset by cuts elsewhere.
- The bill also provides the VA with additional long term funds; acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson testified that the agency needed $17.3 billion, but it's likely the agreed upon number is lower than that. This funding will be offset to placate Republicans who were initially opposed to the additional funding.
- The bill also enables service members on the GI bill (and their spouses) to get in-state tuition at whichever public college/university they attend.
- It authorizes funding for 27 additional leases for VA facilities around the country -- mostly community clinics.
- The bill gives VA managers more authority to fire people. An employee who is fired will have a week to appeal the firing. If they appeal, an internal merit board will have 21 days to review the case and make a ruling. Republicans had been fighting for greater firing authority for VA managers. Democrats pushed for the appeals process.
There's optimism on Capitol Hill that this bill could pass the House and Senate by the end of the week, before Congress leaves town for a five-week summer recess.