A compromise, bipartisan Senate plan to revamp the Dept. of Veterans Affairs isn't likely to include new funds for VA construction, but it will call for a panel to recommend improvements in the department's construction program.
Senators Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), who chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee, and John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced on the Senate floor on June 5 that they had struck a deal on the framework of a VA bill.
[Sanderssummary of framework. McCainsummaryincluding link to video of floor comments.]
Few details are available so far. Presumably, aides to the two senators are beginning to draft the legislation.
For construction, the key element of the package is what Sanders called a presidential commission to help improve VA construction, which, he said, "has been an ongoing problem" with the department. McCain referred to it as a commission to deal with "capital planning."
The panel is likely to be close to the commission that Sanders included inan earlier VA bill that he outlined on June 1.
According to a summary of that earlier proposal, the aim of the "Presidential Commission on Capital Planning for VA Medical Facilities" would be "to improve VA’s cradle-to-grave capital asset processes, from facility planning and project management to finding ways to break through the backlog of identified construction and renovation projects."
In addition, the Sanders-McCain plan will include authority for VA to lease 26 medical facilities in 18 states. Sanders said those additional centers will help provide "the timely care that veterans deserve."
Abill that the House passed last December authorizes 27 facility leases in 18 states and Puerto Rico. Four facilities are California and four in Texas.
Another Sanders-McCain provision would authorize $500 million to hire new VA doctors and nurses and address shortages of such personnel in the department's medical network.
The bill also would give VA top management more power to remove senior department officials whom Sanders termed "incompetent," though it will give such workers notified of their terminations an avenue to appeal their dismissals to a federal board.