House sharpens focus on VA scandal

Greg Nash

House Republicans plan to keep the spotlight on the Department of Veterans Affairs this week with votes on a series of bills aimed at addressing problems in the system and boosting opportunities for troops who served overseas.

The legislative push after the Memorial Day weekend comes as House committees ramp up oversight of the VA amid mounting reports that officials concealed long waiting lists for veterans at healthcare facilities across the country.

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Republicans have sharpened their focus on the scandal over the last two weeks, with several senior lawmakers calling for the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

The Veterans Affairs’ Committee, led by Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), will hold a hearing Wednesday evening to address the VA’s response to subpoenas the panel issued compelling testimony on an alleged “secret” list kept by the VA healthcare system in Phoenix.

On the House floor, lawmakers will vote on as many as four bipartisan bills related to the VA. One proposal introduced by Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.) would seek to improve accountability at the department by adding reporting requirements for the inspector general’s office.

The House last week passed legislation on a vote of 390-33 that would make it easier for the secretary of Veterans Affairs to fire senior civil servants who have underperformed.

The veterans legislation hitting the floor on Wednesday will come up under a suspension of the rules, meaning a two-thirds majority will be required for passage. Strong bipartisan support is likely, as Democrats wrote two of the four bills.

One of the proposals is legislation from Democratic Rep. Dina Titus (Nev.) that would provide counseling and treatment to veterans for sexual trauma suffered during active duty training.

Another bill from Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) would bring back a committee within the Department of Veterans Affairs that had handled licensing and certification for job training programs. The panel lapsed in 2006.

Kirkpatrick spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson said the bill was aimed at speeding up the approval process, so more veterans can find jobs when they return home.