Congress Agrees on VA Reform Before Leaving for Recess

The Veterans Health Administration operates the nation’s largest integrated healthcare delivery system, managing 150 medical centers, 820 community-based outpatient clinics, 300 Vet Centers, 135 community living centers, 104 rehabilitation treatment programs and 70 mobile Vet Centers. The agency schedules about 236,000 healthcare appointments every day — approximately 85 per year.

More than 300,000 workers at various levels offer services to almost 6.5 million veterans and other beneficiaries annually.

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee who led negotiations for the lower chamber, asserted that VA reform was necessary “in the midst of an unprecedented crisis caused by corruption, mismanagement and a lack of accountability across the board.”

“This is an honest solution to an urgent problem, one that is focused on making government more accountable and providing veterans with real choice in their health care decisions,” Miller said, adding that it provides Congress with an opportunity “start fixing what is now a broken bureaucracy.”

The bill drew support from a variety of veterans groups. Daniel Dellinger, national commander of the American Legion, praised it as “an important step in the process to begin repairing systemic problems in the Department of Veterans Affairs” but he cautioned “it is only one step and only a beginning.”

“The American Legion is confident President Obama will sign this measure into law so we can all continue working together toward a lasting solution to ensure reasonable access to VA healthcare and restore trust among veterans who depend on the system,” Dellinger said.

What little opposition the bill faced came from lawmakers concerned with the costs. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), one of three members of the Senate – all Republicans – who voted against it, expressed concern it will add to the deficit.

“Our veterans deserve solutions to the deep-rooted problems plaguing the VA, and they also deserve a Congress that has the discipline to pay for legislation it passes,” Corker said. “It’s embarrassing that Congress not only refuses to face today’s decisions with the courage our men and women in uniform have demonstrated for decades, but rushed through a piece of legislation without thoroughly reviewing its full fiscal impact on future generations and without knowing if it will address the systemic problems that exist at the VA. Congress should take time to work with the recently confirmed Secretary of the VA on cost-effective reforms that don’t put in place yet another long-term unfunded liability.”

Corker cited a report from the Congressional Budget Office that found that the $10 billion needed to pay for funding the private doctors provision in the bill will last only until the early part of FY 2016 and require billions of dollars in additional funding each year if the program is not canceled.