Biden optimistic on VA bill, Reid doubtful

Congress has yet to arrive at a compromise bill for legislation to fix problems within the VA.
By Gabrielle Levy  |  July 21, 2014 at 5:29 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 21 (UPI) -- More than a month after the Senate and the House each passed legislation to fix problems within the Department of Veterans Affairs, a compromise has yet to emerge.

At an Veterans of Foreign Wars event in St. Louis, Mo., Monday, Vice President Joe Biden called on Congress to find common ground to pass the legislation necessary to improve the veterans' heath system.

"It's time to get it done now," Biden said. "Stop fooling around."

Biden said confirming VA secretary nominee Robert McDonald, the retired president and CEO of Proctor & Gamble who attended West Point and served as a captain in the U.S. Army, was a top priority.

"He's a man who gets it," Biden said. "If there ever was an example of how the finest military training, coupled with successful support of veterans' benefits, can elevate a man or women or a family... it's Bob McDonald."

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was not optimistic Congress could overcome its dysfunction to write a compromise bill that would satisfy the funds necessary to handle the crisis sparked when whistleblowers revealed employees had avoided placing veterans on waiting lists to keep wait times low.

"We've spent trillions of dollars in two wars, unpaid-for by the way. That's what President [George W.] Bush wanted, and that's what he got," Reid said on the Senate floor Monday.

"But now, when we're being asked to spend a few dollars to take care of these people who have come back in need... it looks to me like they're going to come back with nothing," he said. "The conference is not being completed. Why? Because they have to spend some money on these people who they were glad to spend the money to take them to war, but now they're back they're missing limbs, they've got lots of post-traumatic stress problems... no money there."

The House passed its version of a fix unanimously on June 10, approving a bill that would allow veterans to seek medical care at an outside provider if they are forced to wait more than 30 days for an appointment or live more than 40 miles from a VA center.

A similar Senate bill also passed overwhelmingly on June 11, but a Congressional Budget Office letter that scored the legislation at possibly costing more than $50 billion per year as veterans seek out more care caused some supporters of the measure to reconsider.

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