The Trenches at Home: Passing the VA Reform Bill
The much-vaunted $17 billion deal between Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Jeff Miller, respective chairs of the Senate and House Committees on Veterans Affairs, was celebrated as a triumph of bipartisanship. However, the bill still has to pass in both chambers. It seems the passage is likely but the bill is not unanimously supported.
According to TheHill.com, Sen. Richard Burr, “the top Republican” on the SVAC said “The bill’s going to pass in the House. The bill’s going to pass in the Senate.” While a vote hasn’t been scheduled, both Sens. Bernie Sanders’ and Majority Leader Harry Reid’s offices believe the vote will happen before the five-week recess for summer.
Known “deficit hawk” Sen. Tom Coburn will not be supporting the bill. His object is not the $12 billion that this bill would add to the budget deficit, but that VA physicians don’t see enough patients per day. Sen. Bob Corker told TheHill.com that he was worried the option for veterans to seek private healthcare could “go on forever,” which means “a ‘massive amount of money down the road.’”
According to a report from Stars and Stripes, the $5 billion in offsets – which is why the bill only adds $12 billion to the deficit and not the full $17 billion – require “spending cuts from the VA budget.” The cuts limit VA employee bonuses and extend a cap on pensions for veterans with certain Medicaid benefits. Also the government will continue to collect “fees on Veterans Housing Benefit Program Fund loans” for another decade.
The most troubling cut, however, is that veterans “would be denied money under the Montgomery GI Bill All-Volunteer Force Educational Assistance Program and Post-9/11 Educational Assistance programs if they are being charged higher tuition than in-state students pay.” For veterans who have recently moved to another state, asking them to further delay their education until they qualify for in-state rates seems a step too far.
However, given the seriousness of the problems in the VA, I can’t imagine any veteran who wouldn’t be willing to wait a few more months (after serving for years) to ensure that his or her brothers- and sisters-in-arms are finally getting the care they need.
UPDATE: According to CNN, the House of Representatives passed their version of the bill and the Senate is expected to vote “as early as Thursday.”
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