A bill aimed at reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs and increasing its funding passed the House-Senate conference committee Monday. The conference bill now must pass both houses to become law. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the 10-year cost to be $17 billion.
(Update: This report earlier said the bill had passed Congress, which was in error.)
$17 Billion VA Bill passes Congressional hurdle
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep Jeff Miller (R-GA) made the announcement:
Judging by the weak accountability measures introduced, House Republicans appear to have accepted the idea that the problems with the VA were a matter of inadequate funding, rather than entrenched corruption. All Veterans Affairs staff have to do to prevent veterans from being able to use private doctors is to give them an appointment at the VA.
Some highlights of the bill:
- Gives the VA $10 billion so it can pay for non-VA care for veterans who can’t get an appointment within 30 days (or a future published goal established by VA) or resides more than 40 miles from the nearest VA medical facility, with certain exceptions.
- Require an independent assessment of VA medical care
- Extend the ARCH (Access Received Closer to Home) pilot program for two years.
- Extend a pilot program to provide rehabilitation for vets with traumatic brain injury through March 31, 2015.
- Provide $5 billion to VA to increase access to care through the hiring of physicians and other medical staff and by improving VA’s physical infrastructure.
- Authorize 27 major medical facility leases in 18 states and Puerto Rico.
- Authorize VA to fire or demote Senior Executive Service (SES) employees for poor performance or misconduct, with a limited appeal process.
- Reduce funding for bonuses available to VA employees by $40 million each year through FY 2024.
- Require public colleges to provide in-state tuition to veterans and eligible dependents in order for the school to remain eligible to receive G.I. Bill education payments.
- Expand the Sgt. Frye Scholarship Program to provide full Post 9/11 G.I. Bill benefits to spouses of service members who died in the line of duty after 9/11.
$17 Billion VA Bill Passes Congress