WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate has approved a pair of bills taking aim at urgent problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, clearing a $3.9 billion emergency spending package to fix a looming budget crisis and adopting new measures to pare down a rapidly growing backlog of veterans’ disability claims.
Both bills passed Tuesday by unanimous vote.
The spending package provides $2.1 billion to continue funding the Veterans Choice Program, which allows veterans to receive private medical care at government expense. VA Secretary David Shulkin had warned that without congressional action the program would run out of money by mid-August, disrupting medical care for thousands of veterans.
Another $1.8 billion would go to core VA health programs, including 28 leases for new VA medical facilities.
The other piece of legislation approved by the Senate would cut the time it takes for the VA to handle appeals from veterans unhappy with their disability payouts, part of a bid to reduce a rapidly growing claims backlog. That bill was a priority for Shulkin, who described the appeals process as “broken.” It comes weeks after President Donald Trump signed into law a bipartisan accountability bill to make it easier to fire employees at VA, pledging to continue with other changes to transform VA “until the job is done.”
The spending package now goes to Trump for his signature, while the disability appeals bill goes back to the House.
“It is critical that the Veterans Choice Program has the funding to continue offering timely…
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