The U.S. House and Senate have agreed to a bipartisan $15 billion emergency funding bill to bring the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) back from the brink of absolute disaster after weeks of negotiations.
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., led the charge to get both the House and Senate on board with a funding bill before Congress goes on a month-long break in August.
The VA is gripped in a scandal involving massively inadequate health care services provided to veterans, some who died waiting for treatment from the VA and a cover-up scheme to hide that fact. According to the Guardian, about 46,000 veterans had to wait three months to see a doctor, and 7,000 in the last 10 years requested appointments but never got them.
The bill combines some appropriations and language found in the Sander-McCain Senate VA bill with the House bill led by Miller.
According to Roll Call, two thirds of the emergency funding will go toward a program to allow veterans to get health care provided by the VA through their own private doctors, greatly alleviating the backup and delays at VA facilities. The remaining $5 billion will directly fund the VA so it can “strengthen its capabilities,” according to Sanders.
It will also allow the VA to keep a clean house and prevent the systemic fraudulent activity that has run rampant in recent years. It allows the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to “fire people immediately who are underperforming or lying,” with a 21-day appeal period available to them.
The compromise is good news for former Proctor & Gable CEO and vet Robert McDonald, who President Obama nominated in June to overhaul the VA after former Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation. McDonald was unanimously approved by the Senate last Wednesday.
You can watch Sanders and Miller’s full announcement here via C-SPAN.
Or watch a seven-minute edit via the Washington Post: