House, Senate go to conference on VA bill

The House and Senate on Wednesday established conference committees to reconcile differences in legislation to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Senate approved a motion to set up a conference committee came after the House appointed its conferees earlier Wednesday.

“My goal is to get this legislation onto the president's desk as soon as we possibly can,” said  Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. “Our job is to make certain that every veteran in the country gets quality health care in a timely manner.”

Earlier this month, the House and Senate passed similar bills aimed at fixing dysfunctions within the VA healthcare system, which has been plagued by claim backlogs and long wait times.

The Senate bill would establish a two-year program to allow veterans to seek care from non-VA doctors if wait times are excessive or the nearest facility is more than 40 miles away. The bill also gives the VA secretary expanded powers to fire senior executives for poor performance, authorizes the construction of 26 new VA facilities and provides $500 million to hire more doctors and nurses. 

In addition to Sanders, the senators on the conference committee will be Sens. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).