House, Senate leaders agree on $17 billion VA bill

House, Senate leaders agree on $17 billion VA bill

After six weeks, lawmakers have reached agreement on a $17 billion bill to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The deal, announced Monday afternoon, would:

• Give new VA Secretary Robert McDonald broad authority to fire or demote senior officials who are accused of wrongdoing or mismanagement.
• Create a system where veterans will be able to seek health care from private doctors and hospitals if VA physicians are unable to treat patients with 14 days.
• Allocate $5 billion to hire new doctors and nurses.
• Remove bureaucratic barriers that slowed hiring so the VA can more quickly fill medical vacancies.
• Create 28 new VA hospitals and clinics. You can view that list here.

The compromise legislation is less than half of what the Congressional Budget Office had forecast a previous version of the bill would cost — something that rankled Republican lawmakers.

House and Senate veterans committee leaders commented on the deal.

Said House Veterans Affairs Committee chair Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), “We have a VA that is in crisis today. This agreement will go a long way to helping resolve the crisis. Helping get veterans off waiting lists is extremely important and this bill does that.”

“Rather than go through why we didn’t do this a month ago and get it done, the important point is that we are here together having done something,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “I’m proud of what we have accomplished.”

The measure must pass a final vote in the House and the Senate, as lawmakers are looking to quickly schedule the vote ahead of Friday’s five-week Congressional recess.