30 July Legislative News Update
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published
every Monday when Congress is in session.
In this issue:
- Agreement Reached on VA Bill
AGREEMENT REACHED ON VA BILL
AUSA’s Director of Government Affairs Bill Loper, along with other representatives from Veteran and Military Service organizations, attended a roundtable meeting hosted by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., last week. The event afforded AUSA the opportunity to discuss issues important to the Association and its members with Pelosi and other top Democratic lawmakers.
The main topic discussed was the ongoing and sometimes contentious conference negotiations between the House and Senate on a measure that seeks to fix widely-reported problems within the Veterans’ Administration. At the time, it seemed likely that, once again, Republicans and Democrats would be unable to reach a compromise and pass the legislation. However, we are happy to report that they did reach an agreement and a final bill should clear both chambers before lawmakers depart for a five-week recess at the end of the week.
The compromise agreement would provide $15 billion in emergency mandatory spending — $10 billion for a new private care option for veterans and another $5 billion for improvements within the VA such as hiring doctors and nurses and upgrading facilities. The main sticking point in the negotiations was the price tag. To alleviate concerns, the deal caps the costs. The $15 billion would remain available until expended, with some lawmakers expecting it to last for more than a year.
To qualify for the private care option, veterans would have to experience long wait times or be located more than 40 miles from a VA facility. They would be able to access providers who already participate in Medicare the same as TRICARE beneficiaries. The measure also permits the VA secretary to dismiss or downgrade employees in an expedited fashion based on performance or misconduct. It would also prevent wait-time metrics from being used in determining a VA employee’s eligibility for a bonus, and would authorize the VA to enter into 27 major medical facility leases throughout the country.
In other VA news, the Senate confirmed Bob McDonald to be the new VA secretary. McDonald, a graduate of West Point and the former CEO of Proctor and Gamble, says he will use his business experience to transform the VA into one focused on the core mission of helping veterans.
In his confirmation hearing, McDonald told the Senate panel that his first 90 days on the job would include dramatic reform moves such as quarterly video conferences with regional officials, a new physician review board to evaluate health care delivery, expanded digital records and processing and an open invitation to whistleblowers to help shape changes in operations.
Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., said on the floor that McDonald will “bring the tools of a CEO in a private corporation to the VA, a huge bureaucracy which needs significant improvement in accountability and management.”
Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said “This is the type of leader we need at the VA at this crucial time.”
Reported problems within the VA included manipulation of scheduling and benefits records, retaliation against whistleblowers and a general lack of accountability. McDonald said, “I desperately want this job, because I think I can make a difference.”