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Congress Has Finally Reached a Deal to Improve Veteran’s Health Care

Congress Has Finally Reached a Deal to Improve Veteran’s Health Care

Written by Tara Culp-Ressler

Just a few days before Congress breaks for a five week recess, lawmakers have finallyreached a deal on a legislative package intended to reform a veterans health program that has been plagued with controversy for months. House and Senate negotiators say that the proposed reforms will help eliminate thebacklog of veterans who have been forced to wait too long to receive medical care.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) will unveil the legislation at a news conference on Monday afternoon.The Associated Press reports that their plan is 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.” The new legislation will also prohibit metrics related to scheduling and wait times to be used as factors in rating VA employees’ performance. Those policies are in line withseveral of the recommendations that veterans advocates have been calling for since the scandal first broke this past spring.

The Veterans Health Administration made national headlines in May after reports revealed widespread mismanagement and excessive delays in treatment. At least40 veterans died as a result of being forced to wait too long for medical services, and evidence emerged that VA officials were deliberately attempting to cover up the ongoing issues. Although veterans have historicallyenjoyed the care they receive through the VA, the serious issues with access led to calls for reform from both sides of the aisle.

Nonetheless, the negotiations dragged on for months, and appeared to bestalled over disputes over how much funding the VA overhaul would require. Lawmakers were under pressure toget something done before the impending August recess, but as recently as last week, they didn’t appear to be getting anywhere fast. However, Sanders and Miller said in a joint statement that they made “made significant progress” over the weekend.

Veterans groups are celebrating the news of a tentative deal, but not everyone is impressed by how long it took to pull something together. “It’s about time they’re doing their jobs. You don’t get a medal for doing your job,” Tom Tarantino, the chief policy officer of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America,said in reference to the lawmakers working on this issue. Similarly, a recent survey of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans found thatnearly 70 percent of them don’t think Congress has done a good job of working to improve vets’ lives.

The legislation will need to be approved by the full House and Senate this week before heading to President Obama’s desk. But depending how much it costs, it might be difficult for the bill to win over the support of House Republicans, who haveexpressed concerns about increasing costs for a government-run program. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the cost of one policy intended to address long wait times allowing veterans to seek care from private health care providers if they’re facing an unreasonable wait time or live more than 40 miles away from a VA provider could reach $50 billion per year.

This post originally appeared on Think Progress.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock

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11:54PM PDT on Aug 1, 2014

3 wars add up... This is the legacy of GW Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. Trillions of dollars.

3:00PM PDT on Aug 1, 2014

David F-- this bull#@$%! with the VA Hospital's & lack of proper funding has been going on for decades! So.you can't blame the DEM's ALL PARTIES are responsible for this catastrophe!!!!

2:52PM PDT on Aug 1, 2014

The government has systematically screwed over veteran's for forever. Infact, just as we went into the Iraq war, congress was reducing benefits for veteran's behind closed doors & very hush-hush. Government say's support our troops!, but their words do NOT meet their actions...& never will. This bill might be an improvement, but it will not fix a very broken system. Why not complete transparency here!, let veteran's go on TV for all American's to see & let them tell their stories! People will be horrified & shocked that the same women & men that have sacrificed everything to protect our country could be treated so shabbily. It's a DISGRACE actually!!!!

2:13AM PDT on Jul 31, 2014

Thanks for the article.

4:36PM PDT on Jul 30, 2014

our vets deserve the best healthcare. Too many are returning with mental & physical health issues and addictions.

9:13AM PDT on Jul 30, 2014

Good news ! Finally ! But they deserve much more ...

10:51PM PDT on Jul 29, 2014

Cash for clunkers isnt the topic of this thread david. But of course Liberal hate is the topic of EVERY post for you.

8:26PM PDT on Jul 29, 2014

It's about time. It's shameful are soldiers have to wait so long.

7:39PM PDT on Jul 29, 2014

What's been happening at the VA, is entirely predictable.

It's what you get when neocon hawks, & teabaggers collide.

7:29PM PDT on Jul 29, 2014

Vets deserve more than anyone else

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