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US House and Senate Attempt to Work on VA Reform

The Veterans’ reform bill recently passed by the US Senate by a vote of 93-3 increases access to health care for veterans as well as provides much-needed reforms to the US Department of Veterans Affairs.  However, after the US House of Representatives met Wednesday night to try to pass its own version of the bill, US Senator Mark Begich spoke on to the Senate on his feelings towards the Veterans’ Conference Committee. 

The House of Veterans Affairs Committee met on Thursday, after being added hurriedly to the schedule.  Representative Tim  Huelskamp, a republican from Kansas, questioned the Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson during a hearing entitled “Restoring Trust: The View of the Acting Secretary and the Veterans Community.”

Huelskamp held up a copy of LIFE magazine from May of 1970 that featured an article about VA neglect.  He says the VA is facing the same trust issues with the veterans of today that it did in 1970. 

“Mr. Gibson we sit here today and that’s the same topic, how are we going to restore the trust to our American veterans and the American people? And what I’ve heard from you today so far has been is if we give you another 17.6 billion somehow that will restore that trust. I don’t think that does that for my constituents, certainly not for my veterans.”

Gibson affirmed that all secret waiting lists within the VA have been destroyed.  He also says that the money the VA is asking for will be used to get veterans off waitlists and into clinics and fix the chronic scheduling problems seen in the VA. 

Senator Begich spoke to the Senate later that day to voice his frustrations in not being informed of the House committee meeting in a timely manner.  This speech came after sending a letter to the Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.  The letter stated “It has been months since reports emerged of mistreatment of veterans in Phoenix, prompting a national investigation of the veterans’ health care system and passage of legislation by the House and Senate.”

Begich writes that he believes the veterans of this country deserve better than to be stuck while legislation is stalled.

The House side of the Veterans’ Conference Committee met Thursday to work on new legislation.  Begich says although he wants to see reform, he doesn’t like the way the committee left out the Senate.

“On the other side they talk a lot about transparency and timeliness and making sure the public is aware of what they’re doing. But lo and behold they just kind of snapped together a meeting because they have an idea that they want to move forward. I’m all game for more ideas on how to solve the problems with our veterans, but the public demands us to solve this problem and also demands it to be done in a transparent way.”

Begich says the only way the veterans’ of this country are going to get any help is if the House and the Senate work together.

“We need to take care of our veterans. And for the house to nickel and dime our veterans is absolutely obscene, it’s outrageous. They served our country. We need to do what we can to take care of them. And it does mean not having midnight emails to tell us about a meeting that is going to occur on a day 12 hours later, when I have no idea what their proposal is.”

The general consensus seems to be that the VA system is broken.  However, even with the Senate passing the veterans reform legislation, there doesn’t seem to be a working relationship between the House and Senate.