Members of the House and Senate negotiating a bill to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs have agreed to language giving fired VA officials a 21-day appeal period, instead of allowing them to be fired immediately with no appeal.
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and his House counterpart Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) announced the deal to reporters on Monday. The agreement also includes $15 billion in immediate funding — two-thirds of that amount will be treated as emergency spending and thus will not be offset with spending cuts.
The language on new rules for firing corrupt VA officials involved in the VA health care scandal is much weaker than what the House passed earlier this year. The House proposal allowed no appeal process for fired officials.
Earlier this month, a key veterans group called on members to agree to the tougher House language. But Sanders indicated to reporters that language closer to the Senate version was finally accepted.
“This bill contains language which will allow the secretary to fire people immediately who are underperforming or lying,” Sanders said. “It gives them a 21-day period of appeal, without pay during that period.”
Regarding the cost of the bill, Sanders and Miller said it would spend $10 billion to give veterans access to care outside the VA system, and proposes $5 billion for new doctors. Sanders said $5 billion would be offset by finding other money within the VA, and defended the $10 billion in emergency spending that will increase the national debt.
“Funding for veterans needs must be considered a cost of war, and appropriated as emergency spending,” he said.
Miller, a Republican, defended the spending increase as a step that’s needed to quickly attend to the needs of veterans.
“Taking care of veterans is not an inexpensive proposition, and I think our members understand this,” he said. “The VA has caused this problem.”
Miller also indicated that the cost of the bill would depend on how many veterans seek to leave the VA system.
“I don’t believe there will be a flight of all of the veterans out of the system, but we don’t know until we start this program,” he said.