By Debbie Gregory.
It’s been over two years since scandal rocked the Department of Veteran Affairs and forced the resignation of much of its leadership. In an attempt to address long wait times for claims processing, healthcare appointments and a lack of accountability for VA employees, Senate leaders have unveiled a massive veterans reform proposal.
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA) said he is confident the proposal can become law later this year.
The bipartisan omnibus package will improve accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and make sweeping improvements to veterans’ health care and benefits.
“In this bill we are addressing all of the things we have been hearing about from our veterans,” he said. “Accountability is addressed, delivered, and we’re going to have a new VA in America.”
Dubbed the Veterans First Act, legislation would give removal authority for all employees at VA based on performance or misconduct, prohibit bonuses for employees accused of wrongdoing, and protections for whistleblowers. It would also expand a VA program that allows seriously-injured veterans to receive care in their own homes, enhance programs for veterans’ mental health care, and address the VA’s massive backlog of veteran disability claims appeals. Other key provisions include: health care; disability compensation; pensions; education; employment/transition; homelessness and burial benefits.
The bill also contains language that will theoretically streamline the Veterans Choice program to allow veterans to get care outside a VA facility. The current Veterans Choice program is extremely limited and frustrating for many who have tried to use it.
Unlike a separate, pending House proposal, this legislation does not propose any cuts to future GI Bill benefits to pay for the program expansions.