Lawmakers in Washington are nearing an agreement on funding in an effort to save a nearly bankrupt Department of Veterans Affairs program.
The VA announced Wednesday that lawmakers in both the House and Senate have come to terms in keeping the Veterans Choice program funded, Stars and Stripes reported.
The new legislation earmarks $2.1 billion for the Choice program, which permits veterans to receive health care from private medical facilities. The bill would also invest in the leases of 28 VA facilities and include provisions that would make it easier for the VA to hire medical personnel, according to a statement released Wednesday. Current department data show there are more than 45,000 vacancies in the VA health care system.
“I urge the House of Representatives to act swiftly, so this legislation can be considered in the Senate before the August recess begins,” VA Secretary David Shulkin said in the statement.
While there is a consensus among lawmakers on Capitol Hill, final approval has not been reached.
Tiffany Haverly, spokeswoman for Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, told Stars and Stripes on Wednesday that a firm agreement hadn’t been reached “but negotiations are ongoing.”
The Veterans Choice program will run out of money by mid-August and lawmakers in the House have only two days left before their August recess to approve the solution. A lack of funding could cause thousands of lapses in medical care for vets.
Last week, Roe and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., worked on a proposal to fund the Choice program while investing more money in the VA and establishing a nationwide review of the department’s infrastructure.
Negotiations stalled after they presented the idea to veterans groups and members of their committee. The proposal included funding for VA personnel vacancies and 27 leases for more VA clinics and research locations, which the eight veterans groups said the VA urgently needs.
On Monday, Roe said he wanted to pass only the urgently needed funding for the Choice program and work on solutions for the other issues later, according to Stars and Stripes. But Walz said the group was close to a compromise and should wait to pass legislation that had bipartisan support in the House and Senate and that veterans groups could rally behind.
After Monday’s vote, the veterans groups -- AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Military Officers Association of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Vietnam Veterans of America – released a joint statement.
“With tonight’s vote result, there is now a new opening for the House and Senate to work together in a bipartisan, bicameral manner to rapidly reach agreement to continue funding the Choice program uninterrupted in the short term – without forcing veterans themselves to pay for it – while also making long overdue and urgent investments in VA health care capacity for the long term,” reads the joint statement.