Jul 31 2014
Washington, D.C. – Senator Johnson made the following comments on the VA bill vote Thursday in the Senate:
“I opposed the original Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 because it was a fiscally irresponsible bill, rushed to the floor by Sen. Reid without proper vetting. Only minutes before the vote, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) provided a partial estimate of the bill’s cost, estimating that one section of the bill alone would cost taxpayers an additional $435 billion over 10 years.
“The fact that Senators Sessions, Corker and I voted no and then worked together to ensure a more fiscally responsible final compromise between House and Senate helped to produce a better bill. The three of us wrote to Rep. Miller, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, asking that the conference committee work to ensure that the final bill would be paid for by cutting lower priority spending within existing budget limits. Rep. Miller assured us that he was committed to paying for reforms in a responsible manner fair to the taxpayers and our veterans.
“The bill before us today is a marked improvement over the original bill. It will act as a short-term pilot program that expires three years after authorization. CBO has assured us that this bill costs less than $15 billion, versus $435 billion for the original bill. It also identifies and cuts $5 billion of lower-priority spending. Additionally, the conference committee members have made clear that any future appropriations must go through the regular appropriations process.
This bill allows veterans to access care from private doctors and facilities if they live more than 40 miles away from a VA facility or cannot get an appointment at the VA within 30 days. It also gives the VA flexibility to adjust the timeframe if necessary. The bill also limits the expanded care to current enrollees and newly discharged combat veterans, which dramatically reduces its final cost. Other features include increased emphasis on using telemedicine and mobile vet centers to better serve our veterans, and granting the secretary of veterans affairs the authority to fire or demote employees who are underperforming. This will bring some much needed accountability to VA management. Finally, the bill sets up a Congressional Commission on Care to evaluate the problems with access to health care within the VA system and recommend serious solutions.
“This bill is far from perfect. I still strongly would have preferred to offset the entire cost with lower priority spending and am disappointed that Congress did not do so. But the improvements were significant enough to allow me to vote for its final passage. Much work remains to be done to reform the VA so that we can honor the promises made to those who have sacrificed for our freedom. I intend to continue to work with my colleagues toward those broader reforms within the VA system.”