Deal to improve veterans' health care costs $17B

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
23 PHOTOS
VA reform
See Gallery
Deal to improve veterans' health care costs $17B
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, accompanied by House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, July 28, 2014, to outline their agreement on a compromise plan to fix the vast health care system responsible for treating the nation's veterans. A bipartisan deal to improve veterans' health care would authorize at least $17 billion to fix the health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays, the bill's chief supporters said Monday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right and House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., take the stairs to a news conference on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Monday, July 28, 2014, about a bipartisan deal to improve veterans' health care that would authorize at least $17 billion to fix the health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, followed by Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., emerges from Republican caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 10, 2014. Responding to the public outcry over lax care at Veterans Affairs health facilities, leaders of both parties plan debate soon on a bill to help vets waiting for months to get medical appointments. The House of Representatives advanced a VA reform bill today that passed 421-0. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. pauses while speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 10, 2014, after a Democratic caucus lunch. Responding to the public outcry over lax care at Veterans Affairs health facilities, leaders of both parties plan debate soon on a bill to help vets waiting for months to get medical appointments. The House of Representatives advanced a VA reform bill today that passed 421-0. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 10, 2014, after a Democratic caucus lunch. Responding to the public outcry over lax care at Veterans Affairs health facilities, leaders of both parties plan debate soon on a bill to help vets waiting for months to get medical appointments. The House of Representatives advanced a VA reform bill today that passed 421-0. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
From left: Harry C. Taylor II, Administrative Law Judge, Charleston, W.Va., Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Social Security Administration; Charles Bridges, Administrative Law Judge, Harrisburg, Pa., Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Social Security Administration; Gerald I. Krafsur, Administrative Law Judge, Kingsport, Tenn., Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Social Security Administration; James A. Burke, Administrative Law Judge, Albuquerque, N.M., Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Social Security Administration; are sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 10, 2014, prior to testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform hearing regarding social security and disability benefits. Four Social Security judges are facing accusations they rubber-stamped claims for disability benefits, approving billions of dollars in payments from the cash-strapped program. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Harry C. Taylor II, Administrative Law Judge, Charleston, W.Va., Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Social Security Administration testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 10, 2014, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing regarding social security and disability benefits. Four Social Security judges are facing accusations they rubber-stamped claims for disability benefits, approving billions of dollars in payments from the cash-strapped program. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
From left: James A. Burke, Administrative Law Judge, Albuquerque, N.M., Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Social Security Administration; Harry C. Taylor II, Administrative Law Judge, Charleston, W.Va., Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Social Security Administration; Gerald I. Krafsur, Administrative Law Judge, Kingsport, Tenn., Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Social Security Administration; Charles Bridges, Administrative Law Judge, Harrisburg, Pa., Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Social Security Administration; testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 10, 2014, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing regarding social security and disability benefits. Four Social Security judges are facing accusations they rubber-stamped claims for disability benefits, approving billions of dollars in payments from the cash-strapped program. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, shakes hands with House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, July 28, 2014, during a news conference as they outlined their agreement on a compromise plan to fix the vast health care system responsible for treating the nation's veterans. A bipartisan deal to improve veterans' health care would authorize at least $17 billion to fix the health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays, the bill's chief supporters said Monday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., 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. (AP Photo)
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, joined by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., right, calls on a reporters during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 24, 2014, on the Veterans Administration. The chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees offered competing new proposals to fix a veterans health care program scandalized by long waits and falsified records covering up the delays. (AP Photo)
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, talks with reporters about the border crisis, veterans' health care, and future funding, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 24, 2014. House Republicans and Senate Democrats are at an impasse on dealing with tens of thousands of young migrants showing up at the southern border, leaving any solution unclear with Congress' annual August recess looming. (AP Photo)
Department of Veterans Affairs acting secretary Sloan Gibson pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 24, 2014, before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee to outline his actions for restoring trust to the beleaguered agency. (AP Photo)
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., holds up two pages of resource requests from the Department of Veterans Affairs on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 24, 2014, as he questions Department of Veterans Affairs acting secretary Sloan Gibson on how to restore trust to the beleaguered agency. (AP Photo)
Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson, left, accompanied by Assistant Deputy Undersecretary For Health For Administrative Operations Philip Matkowsky, pauses while testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 16, 2014, before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on the state of VA health care in the wake of revelations of neglect and delayed medical visits. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson, foreground, answers reporters' questions about improvements within the medical care system during a visit to the G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson, Miss., Friday, July 11, 2014. During the visit, Gibson met with the medical center's staff and some veterans. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner testifies before a House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. A federal investigative agency is examining 67 claims of retaliation by supervisors at the Department of Veterans Affairs against employees who filed whistleblower complaints--including 25 complaints filed since June 1, after a growing health care scandal involving long patient waits and falsified records at VA hospitals and clinics became public. The independent Office of Special Counsel said 30 of the complaints about retaliation have passed the initial review stage and were being further investigated for corrective action and possible discipline against VA supervisors and other executives. The complaints were filed in 28 states at 45 separate facilities, Lerner said. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Katherine Mitchell, M.D., medical director, Iraq and Afghanistan Post-Deployment Center, Phoenix VA Health Care System, left, looks on as Scott Davis, program specialist, VA National Health Eligibility Center, testifies before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on the Department of Veteran Affairs supplying inadequate services, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner is sworn in prior to testifying before a House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. A federal investigative agency is examining 67 claims of retaliation by supervisors at the Department of Veterans Affairs against employees who filed whistleblower complaints--including 25 complaints filed since June 1, after a growing health care scandal involving long patient waits and falsified records at VA hospitals and clinics became public. The independent Office of Special Counsel said 30 of the complaints about retaliation have passed the initial review stage and were being further investigated for corrective action and possible discipline against VA supervisors and other executives. The complaints were filed in 28 states at 45 separate facilities, Lerner said. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Men sit outside the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, N.M., Thursday, July 3, 2014. A veteran who collapsed in an Albuquerque Veteran Affairs hospital cafeteria 500 yards from the emergency room, died Monday, June 30, 2014, after waiting 30 minutes for an ambulance, officials confirmed Thursday. Officials at the hospital said it took a half an hour for the ambulance to be dispatched and take the man from one building to the other, which is about a five minute walk. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)
The entrance to the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, N.M., is seen Thursday, July 3, 2014. A veteran who collapsed in an Albuquerque Veteran Affairs hospital cafeteria 500 yards from the emergency room, died Monday, June 30, 2014, after waiting 30 minutes for an ambulance, officials confirmed Thursday. Officials at the hospital said it took a half an hour for the ambulance to be dispatched and take the man from one building to the other, which is about a five minute walk. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)
House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., left, shakes hands with Katherine Mitchell, M.D., medical director, Iraq and Afghanistan Post-Deployment Center, Phoenix VA Health Care System, right, as witnesses Jose Mathews, M.D., former chief of psychiatry, St. Louis VA Health Care System; Christian Head, M.D., associate director, chief of staff, Legal and Quality Assurance, Greater Los Angeles VA Health Care System, look on at the start of the committee's hearing on the Department of Veteran Affairs supplying inadequate services, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

By MATTHEW DALY

WASHINGTON (AP) - A bipartisan deal to improve veterans' health care would authorize at least $17 billion to fix the health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays, the bill's chief supporters said Monday.

The agreement includes $10 billion in emergency spending to make it easier for veterans who can't get prompt appointments with Veterans Affairs doctors to obtain outside care; $5 billion to hire doctors, nurses and other medical staff; and about $1.5 billion to lease 27 new clinics across the country, the chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees said.

The bill also would expand a scholarship program for veterans to include surviving spouses of military members who died in the line of duty, allow all veterans to qualify for in-state college tuition, and grant the VA secretary authority to immediately fire senior executives, while providing employees with streamlined appeal rights.

The bill "makes certain that we address the immediate crisis of veterans being forced onto long waiting lists for health care," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs panel. The bill also "strengthens the VA so that it will be able to hire the doctors, nurses and medical personnel it needs so we can permanently put an end to the long waiting lists," Sanders said at a news conference with Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., his House counterpart.

Sanders and Miller reached agreement on the plan over the weekend after more than six weeks of sometimes testy talks.

The compromise measure would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to pay private doctors to treat qualifying veterans who can't get prompt appointments at the VA's nearly 1,000 hospitals and outpatient clinics, or those who live at least 40 miles from one of them. The bill would limit the number of veterans who can get outside care by restricting it to those who are enrolled as of Aug. 1.

The proposed restrictions are important in controlling costs for the program. Congressional budget analysts had projected that tens of thousands of veterans who currently are not treated by the VA would likely seek VA care if they could see a private doctor paid for by the government.

The deal requires a vote by a conference committee of House and Senate negotiators, and votes in the full House and Senate.

The legislation is intended 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.

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.

More AOL Content:
Teens give horrific accounts of ferry disaster
President gets emotional during address

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners