House, Senate leaders deadlock on VA fix

The House and Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs hit a stalemate Thursday over their respective legislation to aid veterans hurt by the Veterans Affairs (VA) scandal, Reuters reported.

Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) proposal would provide less than $25 billion in additional VA healthcare funds, and offset $3 billion with other savings in the budget. Rep. Jeff Miller's (R-Fla.) plan allocated only $10 billion in emergency funds, although the Congressional Budget Office projected a total cost of $44 billion for the veterans' legislation passed by the House. Both legislators introduced their plans after Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson told the senate the VA needed nearly $18 billion to clear the waitlist backlog, a figure that includes the cost of hiring new doctors and nurses and opening new clinics.

"We were so close before the $17.6 billion number got thrown in," Miller told reporters, according to the article. "And then everything stopped." Although Miller said he hoped to reach a deal next weekend, "arriving at a compromise will be impossible if Senate Democrats refuse to even participate in Veterans' Affairs conference committee meetings and negotiations as they did today."

Sanders, in turn, issued a statement blasting what he said was Miller's "take-it-or-leave-it gambit" and refusal to negotiate. "This is a sad indication that the House leadership is not serious about negotiations. We don't need more speeches and posturing. We need serious negotiations--24/7 if necessary--to resolve our differences in order to pass critical legislation," Sanders said in the statement.

Both Miller's and Sanders' bills would allow veterans to seek care outside the VA system rather than having to wait out care delays. Sanders' proposal would also authorize the VA to fire low-performing executives and provide student loan forgiveness and scholarships for nurses and doctors who enter the VA system, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the Reuters article
- check out Sanders' proposal
- check out Miller's plan
- here's Sanders' statement