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After 6 weeks, finally a deal on VA health care


WASHINGTON (AP) -- After more than six weeks of sometimes testy talks, House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a compromise plan to fix a veterans health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays.

The chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees have scheduled a news conference Monday afternoon to unveil a plan expected to authorize billions in emergency spending to lease 27 new clinics, hire more doctors and nurses and make it easier for veterans who can't get prompt appointments with VA doctors to obtain outside care.

An agreement reached Sunday by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was a long time coming. The House and Senate approved bills on veterans health care in early June, and lawmakers from both parties said they expected a final bill by July 4.

Instead, negotiators met once in public, then disappeared or held private meetings that produced few results. Talks reached a low point last Thursday, as Sanders and Miller had a public spat that appeared to leave the two sides far apart, with only days remaining until Congress goes on a five-week recess.

Congress Just Got One Step Closer To Solving The VA Crisis

Sanders, who chairs the Senate veterans panel, and Miller, chairman of the House panel, repeatedly lashed out at each other. Sanders accused Miller of acting in bad faith, while Miller said Sanders had "moved the goalposts" in talks to fix veterans' health care.

A partisan impasse loomed, even as both sides said they hoped to avoid what Miller called the "sort of bickering and name-calling for which Washington has become infamous."

Three days later, after talks by telephone from Florida and Vermont, Miller and Sanders were on the same page.

Aides to the two men said Sunday they had reached a tentative agreement. The deal requires a vote by a conference committee of House and Senate negotiators, and votes in the full House and Senate.

Miller and Sanders said in a joint statement that they "made significant progress" over the weekend toward agreement on legislation to reform the Veterans Affairs Department, which has been rocked by reports of patients dying while awaiting VA treatment and mounting evidence that workers falsified or omitted appointment schedules to mask frequent, long delays. The resulting election-year firestorm forced VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign in late May.

The plan set to be announced Monday is intended to "make VA more accountable and to help the department recruit more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals," Miller and Sanders said.

Louis Celli, legislative director for the American Legion, the nation's largest veterans group, said the deal would provide crucial help to veterans who have been waiting months or even years for VA health care.

"There is an emergency need to get veterans off the waiting lists. That's what this is all about," Celli said Sunday.

Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the agreement was good news - although several months late.

"It's about time they're doing their jobs," he said of Sanders, Miller and other members of Congress. "You don't get a medal for doing your job."

Veterans waiting two months for medical appointments "don't care about all this back and forth" in Congress, Tarantino said. "That's what should be driving decisions."

An updated audit by the VA this month showed that about 10 percent of veterans seeking medical care at VA hospitals and clinics still have to wait at least 30 days for an appointment. About 46,000 veterans have had to wait at least three months for initial appointments, the report said, and an additional 7,000 veterans who asked for appointments over the past decade never got them.

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson has said the VA is making improvements, but said veterans in many communities still are waiting too long to receive needed care. The VA provides health care to nearly 9 million enrolled veterans.

The House and Senate are set to adjourn at the end of the week until early September, and lawmakers from both parties have said completing a bill on veterans' health care is a top priority.

The Senate is expected to vote this week to confirm former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the new VA secretary, replacing Gibson.

Join the discussion

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greatbirdusa July 28 2014 at 8:47 AM

Why do we have
a special VA healthcare system?
If Vets were issued an insurance healthcare card then allowed to go wherever they wish for care
- in the private system -
then all this crap would disappear...
Simple --
Just issue a
"Vet Insurance healthcare card" similar to any other insurance program and let the private market do what they do best...

Flag Reply +73 rate up
24 replies
Drillsgt1843 July 28 2014 at 7:32 AM

I am still waiting to settle a claim for being exposed to Agent Orange more than 47 years ago during the Vietnam War. Have had prostate cancer, renal lesions and soft tissue tumors, all of which can be related to Agent Orange.
Why do illegals and other immigrants coming to the United States get some of the same benefits the veterans apply for in little or no time, and we have to wait years for a decision?

Flag Reply +68 rate up
36 replies
petpetdon July 28 2014 at 7:26 AM

Politics getting in the way of taking care of our military. This is what you need to do. Let them go to ANY hospital they want to. Let the hospital bill the federal government for the services.
These men and women fought for our freedom. They need to be treated with respect and dignity.

Flag Reply +56 rate up
8 replies
morrissat July 28 2014 at 8:01 AM

What, no criminal charges against the people who falsified the Veterans records?

Flag Reply +46 rate up
5 replies
scottee July 28 2014 at 7:44 AM

I notice everyone is still earning six figures....va employees, congress, Bernie Sanders. that's no deal. use that money for the vets!

Flag Reply +33 rate up
3 replies
mailguy2723 July 28 2014 at 7:47 AM

All troops should be brought back home until these morons in Congress decide that you can't send them into harms way and then desert them when they finally come home and need help. 1 less $32 billion bomber should serve their needs for now. In the future the Republicans should treat sending troops in harms way, by acting like the worlds police force, like they treat their needs when they come home. It should need prefunding like they want the bill to aid vets medical needs. Incumbents in Congress should start to worry a revolution may be coming. not with brute force. but with votes to rid our country from the tyrants in politics who have taken over and worry more about where their next special interest bribe is coming from then serving those who elected them.

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7 replies
erfen2014 July 28 2014 at 8:09 AM

The first thing they should learn is not to start wars.

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5 replies
lov2elkhnt July 28 2014 at 7:45 AM

Maybe the term "deal" isn't what should be used. The VA leadership has been involved in criminal activity for bonus and personal gain in lew of America's best staying home with no care provided and left home to rot. The deal with those guys? I haven't heard about any arrests, has anyone else?

Flag Reply +24 rate up
2 replies
mailguy2723 lov2elkhnt July 28 2014 at 7:56 AM

My 8yr old came to me and said he wants to get into organized crime when he grew up. I asked him, government or the private sector?

Flag Reply +5 rate up
2 replies
Meh... mailguy2723 July 28 2014 at 9:10 AM


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lov2elkhnt mailguy2723 July 28 2014 at 11:51 AM

Ain't it the truth. Capone couldn't do better than to be from Chicago and be in charge of this govt employed bunch. Oh, that's right, Obama is just that guy.

Flag +2 rate up
Ellie lov2elkhnt July 28 2014 at 6:37 PM

lov2elkhnt Don't expect any kind of justice from this administration. Actually, I believed that these people worked for us? thought they were supposed to be "hired help" guess I was wrong, same thing with the IRS/

Flag Reply 0 rate up
lovetositonbeach July 28 2014 at 7:42 AM

Name ONE federal program that has ever worked. Just ONE.

Flag Reply +19 rate up
12 replies
aaldrew July 28 2014 at 7:47 AM

I lost my hearing in the Navy because they wanted me to get used to the noise from the cannon and would not let us wear cotton in our ears. I was second loader. It's been a long time to get compensated for it.

Flag Reply +17 rate up
4 replies
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