By Peter Cooney
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A tentative agreement has been reached by the chairmen of the U.S. Senate and House veterans committees on legislation aimed at resolving the Veterans Affairs healthcare crisis, their spokesmen said on Sunday.
Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who heads the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and his House counterpart, Republican Representative Jeff Miller, will outline the agreement at a news conference at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, their spokesmen said.
“Miller and Sanders continued negotiations on a VA reform package this weekend and made significant progress toward an agreement on legislation to make VA more accountable and to help the department recruit more doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals,” their offices said in a statement.
The VA has been rocked by a scandal over cover-ups of months-long waiting times for medical appointments at its clinics and hospitals across the country. In Phoenix, doctors have alleged that some 40 veterans died as their names languished on secret waiting lists while officials misrepresented wait-time data to meet targets for bonus compensation.
The controversy led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in late May.
With time winding down before Congress begins a five-week recess on Friday, pressure has been building to reach a deal on a measure aimed at eliminating long waiting lists at VA hospitals and clinics.
Negotiations on the measure had broken down last week as Sanders and Miller rolled out competing proposals with a $15 billion gap between them.
The proposal introduced by Sanders on Thursday would provide less than $25 billion in new funds for VA healthcare, with $3.3 billion offset by other savings in the department’s budget.
Miller came back with a plan for $10 billion in emergency funds, with other budget needs to be settled in the fiscal 2015 VA spending bill later this year.
(Reporting by Peter Cooney; Additional reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Andrea Ricci)