House VA chairman: Low odds on Dem plan

The Republican chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee said the Democratic proposal to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs likely would not survive a House vote as it now stands.

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said he told his Senate counterpart, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), “it would be very difficult to pass his total bill in the House.”

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Miller’s comments came as Sanders works with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on a bill that could merge their competing visions on how best to overhaul the troubled agency.

Sanders this week unveiled a summary of his measure, which grants the VA secretary new authority to dismiss senior executives for poor job performance and lets veterans seek treatment with private doctors or at community clinics in certain cases.

The House last month overwhelmingly passed a bill pushed by Miller that gives the VA chief the power to fire officials found responsible for mismanagement, sexual harassment and bullying behavior.

Access to healthcare and accountability remain “stumbling blocks” to a compromise bill, Miller told a small group of reporters after meeting with Sanders for nearly an hour.

On accountability, Miller said, Sanders’s measure “has expedited appeal in it, mine does not.”

Miller said that in terms of access, veterans should be able to see non-VA providers, including physicians who accept Medicare and TRICARE, the military’s healthcare plan. He added that there should be some kind of “distance requirement” in the final bill that would allow veterans to seek help locally.

Both ideas were cornerstones of the measure rolled out by McCain on Tuesday, which would issue “choice cards” to veterans to see providers within a 40-mile radius if they could not see a VA physician.

Miller, who came back to Washington to keep House Republican leaders briefed on the ongoing negotiations, said “it’d be very nice if the Senate could put something together that was acceptable.”

“Everybody sees the need for a very quick resolve to the problem that exists out there,” he told reporters.

Sanders said he, too, would like to see a final bill “sooner rather than later.”

“I wish I could do it in three minutes,” he told reporters.