Remember the Veterans Health Care Crisis?

Men sit outside the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, N.M., Thursday, July 3, 2014. Men sit outside the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, N.M., Thursday, July 3, 2014. Russell Contreras/AP

Having so far failed to complete reform legislation intended to ensure veterans don't die waiting for health care, lawmakers return facing significant unfinished business to show voters action before they go home to campaign in August.

The House and Senate are under the gun to show a response to reports that veterans have been left languishing for months on secret waiting lists for medical treatment, or never even getting onto such lists. Veterans are a popular constituency that neither party can afford to ignore, so the pressure is on to deliver something lawmakers can campaign on, before election season heats up.

But members serving on a joint House and Senate conference committee, tasked with hashing out veterans reform legislation, made little headway before recess.

The 28 committee members agreed they are committed to a bipartisan solution that will make it easier for veterans to receive the care they deserve. But several—particularly Republicans—remain hung up over concerns about estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that the reforms could cost as much as $50 billion a year.

The legislation would make it easier to remove incompetent Veterans Affairs Department leaders. It also aims to ensure veterans receive more timely care, including by letting veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA health center seek care from private providers.

But lawmakers largely do not want to be seen doubling the government's cost of VA health care to achieve this goal.

Before recess, at the only public meeting of the conference committee, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who serves as the ranking member on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, blasted the CBO numbers, calling the agency's assumptions "ludicrous" and challenging it to back them up.

Since then members and staff have met behind closed doors with CBO officials, asking for a justification of its assumptions. CBO has argued that because the legislation aims to improve access to VA health care and minimize wait times, veterans are likely to increase the amount of care they receive from the VA. And veterans who do not currently rely on the VA are also more likely to enroll in it and seek out this benefit.

Currently about 8 million of roughly 21 million veterans are enrolled in VA health care; of those, about 6. 5 million take advantage of it. CBO estimated that another 8 million eligible veterans might seek access to VA health care because of the improvements to its access that would be made through the legislation.

But some conference committee members are balking, challenging these predictions. They are asking CBO and the VA to come up with new estimates of what the legislation would cost if additional restrictions or limitations were placed on the expanded access to health care in a final bill.

"The first order of business is for VA and CBO to produce information regarding certain costs and considerations associated with possible reform permutations," said a congressional aide familiar with the negotiations.

No additional formal meetings of the full roster of conferees have been set, but individual members and staff continue to discuss ways to whittle down the projected costs of the reform.

Lawmakers say they are committed to hashing out a compromise bill and getting it through both chambers and to the president's desk as quickly as possible. But sources tracking the negotiations argue the cost wrinkles could take a while to iron out, making the August recess the next big deadline for completion.

"What needs to happen is the conferees need to agree upon the size and scope and cost … as well as some of the other initiatives in the bill," said Robert Norton, a deputy director of government relations with the Military Officers Association of America. "Our biggest concern is that they need to get it done. They need to make sure that veterans get access and are not stuck on these waiting lists for months on end."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.