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From Health Law Daily, July 28, 2014

House, Senate VA committees compromise on fix

By Michelle L. Oxman, JD, LLM

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Representative Jeff Miller (R. Fla.), chairs of the Veterans Affairs Committees of the U.S. Senate and House, respectively, announced a compromise that they say would let the VA “put an immediate halt” to the delays and denials of care to veterans. Although the text of the proposed legislation is not yet available, Sanders and Miller stated at a joint press conference on July 28, 2014 that they have agreed on several major points, with an estimated total cost of $17 billion.

Options outside the VA. Veterans would be able to get care from certain contracted providers outside the VA if they cannot get a timely appointment or if they live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility. The bill would authorize $10 billion for these services; the expenditure would be treated as an emergency cost of war, which allows Congress to add to the federal deficit.

Growing VA facilities. The bill would authorize $5 billion for the VA to hire more doctors and nurses. In addition, about $1.5 billion would be authorized for the agency to enter into leases of medical facilities at 27 locations in 18 states.

Other provisions. The joint bill would authorize additional services for veterans who have been sexually assaulted. Veterans would be eligible for in-state tuition at state colleges and universities. A special scholarship fund currently available only to veterans would be extended to the surviving spouses of members of the armed forces who die in the line of duty.

Next steps. The conference committee must approve the legislation that Sanders and Miller have proposed. Then, both chambers must approve the bill approved by the conference committee. Sanders and Miller expressed the hope that Congress can accomplish these by Friday, August 1, before it recesses for five weeks.

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