You will be redirected to the page you want to view in  seconds.

Lawmakers hope to get VA reform bill back on track

Jul. 11, 2014 - 03:27PM   |  
  • Filed Under

Now that the price tag for the Veterans Affairs Department reform bill has been slashed by about $120 billion over three years, lawmakers are hopeful the legislation can move ahead quickly.

But they’ll need to find ways to offset about $10 billion in each of the next three years to finalize the measure, still an expensive and potentially problematic figure.

On Thursday, the Congressional Budget Office released a new analysis of the pending VA reform bill, already being negotiated by House and Senate conferees.

Initially, the CBO estimated the measure’s cost at up to $50 billion a year, citing provisions that would have dramatically expanded private care options for veterans facing long wait times for VA appointments or living in rural areas far from VA clinics.

The new CBO estimate puts the cost at about $30 billion over the next three years, with costs dropping off dramatically after the private-care pilot program expires.

Conference committee members had laughed off the initial estimates as unrealistic, but the high figures effectively delayed work on a compromise bill for two weeks, despite lawmakers’ insistence on moving the legislation quickly.

Just a few hours before the new estimate was released, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said he expected negotiations to speed up once the new figures were public. Leaders from both chambers have expressed optimism that a final bill can be passed before the scheduled August congressional break.

But House members on the conference committee have insisted that any new costs with the private care expansion must be paid for with offsets and not emergency funds. Senate leaders have said the health care appointment delays facing veterans constitute an emergency and the fixes should be implemented immediately regardless of cost. Even with the lower figure, the two sides will still have to find a way to pay for it.

In a statement, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., downplayed the updated estimate.

“Wars are expensive and taking care of the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend us is a cost of war,” Sanders said.

The reform bill was spurred by VA’s recent scandals concerning administrators gaming patient wait times to protect performance bonuses. The controversy has forced the resignation of several top department officials, including VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in May.

Along with the private care expansion, the reform bill would make it easier for the VA secretary to fire top department employees for mismanagement or poor performance.

The Senate also has pushed for numerous unrelated initiatives concerning GI Bill benefits and VA services for sexual assault victims. So far House members have not supported including those issues in the compromise bill, preferring to pass them as separate legislation.

Answers by RallyPoint

Join trending discussions in the military's #1 professional community. See what members like yourself have to say from across the DoD.

More In Pay & Benefits

Start your day with a roundup of top defense news.

VA Home Loan

Search By:

Product Options:
Zip Code:

News for your in-box

Sign up now for free Military Times E-Reports. Choose from Money and Education. Subscribers: log in for premium e-newsletters.

This Week's Navy Times

This Week's Navy Times

Go mustang
LDO and warrant careers offer more authority, a pay hike and big retirement payout

Subscribe for Print or Digital delivery today!

MilitaryTimes Green Trusted Classifieds Looking to buy, sell and connect on Military Times?
Browse expanded listings across hundreds of military installations.
Faces of valorHonoring those who fought and died in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
hall of valorThe Hall of Valor is a searchable database of valor award citations collected by Doug Sterner, a Vietnam veteran and Military Times contributing editor, and by Military Times staff.

All you need to know about your military benefits.

Benefits handbook

Guard & Reserve All you need to know about the Guard & Reserve.

guard and reserve handbook