It took weeks of debate between the House and Senate, but the House Wednesday passed the negotiated version of a bill to reform the Veterans Administration.
The final version of the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act passed on a 420-5 vote in House late Wednesday.
The bill is Congress’ response to a bureaucracy so bogged down that staffers were found to be falsifying records to conceal delays in delivering services to veterans.
Congressman Pete Gallego said he added several provisions to the bill to help reduce the wait times and ease the burden for veterans who don’t live near a VA clinic.
"It creates new facilities. It will create a new facility in Tyler, a new facility in Lubbock, and allow the expansion of the faciilty in San Antonio," Gallego said. The bill also will create a new facility in Houston.
Other provisions include funding for additional doctors, nurses and staff in all facilities.
Gallego said the bill is a good first step, and in the future he will argue for a focus on hiring more veterans to serve other veterans.
"It's very interesting to me that as I talked about the VA facility in El Paso, talked about the facility in Kerrville, and then talked about the facility in San Antonio, there were a lot of complaints about El Paso, a lot of complaints about San Antonio; not so many complaints about Kerrville," he said. "And when I looked at the data and talked to the veterans, the difference was that, in Kerrville, they hired a lot of veterans."
The bill provides a total of $17 billion for VA reform, of which $10 billion is set aside for veterans’ private care, both those who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility and for those whose wait times exceed 30 days.
The Senate was expected to take up the measure this week.