Jul 28, 2014 6:27 PM by Dave Fields
Negotiators from both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have agreed on a bipartisan, compromise plan to fix the Veterans Administration Health Program. The chairmen of the Veterans Affairs Committees in both houses scheduled a news conference to unveil their plan.
The compromise bill, after passage by conference committee, must garner full passage by both houses. If signed into law by President Obama, the bill would authorize $10 billion in emergency spending as well as $5 billion to hire doctors, nurses and other medical staff. The bill also provides for $1.5 billion to lease 27 new clinics across the country.
Members of the Louisiana Congressional delegation expressed satisfaction with the reported inclusion in the final bill that will advance the completion of the two VA clinics proposed for Louisiana, one in Lake Charles and the other in Lafayette.
"The fight for these clinics has not been easy, nor has it gone as smoothly or as quickly as I had hoped, but today's deal represents a major step forward. We are now closer than ever to breaking ground on these much-needed clinics that will provide the access to quality care that our veterans deserve. I'm proud to work together with Veterans' Affairs Chairman Miller to ensure South Louisiana veterans receive these facilities that have been promised to them," said Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La.
The sentiments conveyed by Louisiana's senators were similar.
"While it has taken longer than it should have or any of us hoped, I'm proud to announce that we have changed the light from red to green to build the Lafayette and Lake Charles veterans' clinics. The 50,000 veterans who call the greater Lafayette and Lake Charles region home will soon have quality health care in their local communities, and I urge members from both parties in both chambers to vote in favor of this legislation that keeps the promises we have made to our veterans," Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., explained. "I'll continue to work with Rep. Boustany to get this bill across the finish line, so that we can keep the promises we made to our veterans."
"Great news, we're going to get the VA Clinics for Lafayette and Lake Charles into the final veteran's bill in Congress. We've been pushing to get these authorized for years now because we need to make sure those who served our country have access to quality health care without having to travel long distances," said Sen. David Vitter, R-La.
The compromise was reached after approximately six weeks of negotiations.
Other elements of the compromise bill include a veterans' scholarship program as well as a provision that would mandate that the VA to pay private physicians to treat qualifying veterans who are unable to get timely appointments with VA providers.
The outcry from the recent VA scandal involving allegations of falsified records and long waiting times resulted in the resignation in late May of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.