Tentative agreement reached on US veterans’ funding bill

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud discusses compromise legislation that is aimed at correcting problems in the Veterans Administration health care system on Monday at the Portland Public Library.
Christopher Cousins | BDN
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud discusses compromise legislation that is aimed at correcting problems in the Veterans Administration health care system on Monday at the Portland Public Library. Buy Photo
Posted July 28, 2014, at 12:52 p.m.
Last modified July 28, 2014, at 2:27 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, said Monday in Portland that a compromise reached over the weekend that is aimed at resolving the Veterans Affairs health care crisis represents a positive short-term step, but more systemic overhauls are needed.

Michaud, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, said he was involved in negotiations through the weekend on the bill. Michaud declined to reveal details of the compromise on Monday during a brief campaign stop at the Portland Public Library, after which he was flying back to Washington for an afternoon House session. However, Michaud hinted that the bill, which faces enactment votes in the U.S. House and Senate this week, includes provisions that will directly impact Maine and other rural states.

“It’s a good compromise that took into account the concerns the rural caucuses had with this bill,” said Michaud, who is giving up his congressional seat to run for governor. “I can assure the veterans of Maine that they will be very pleased.”

An ongoing issue in Maine is that for many medical procedures and other services, veterans have to travel sometimes hours to the VA hospital in Togus. As former chairman of the veterans committee, Michaud has been the focus of continued attacks from his opponents in the governor’s race and elsewhere for allowing health care wait lists to extend for months and in some cases, years. Michaud said Monday that he’s proud of his work on behalf of veterans — which has been a central theme during his tenure in Congress — and that his record compares well against almost anyone.

“This legislation is not an end-all,” said Michaud. “It’s not going to solve all of the Veterans Administration’s problems, but it will be very beneficial to veterans who live in rural areas.”

Leaders of the Veterans Affairs committees in Congress on Monday said they had agreed on legislation providing about $17 billion in funding to ease long waiting times for VA medical centers.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent, and Rep. Jeff Miller, a Republican, announced the deal at a news conference after negotiating during the weekend to resolve differences in bills they proposed last week.

The VA has been rocked by a scandal over cover-ups of months-long waiting times for medical appointments at its clinics and hospitals across the country. In Phoenix, doctors have alleged that some 40 veterans died as their names languished on secret waiting lists while officials misrepresented wait-time data to meet targets for bonus compensation.

The controversy led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in late May, and the Senate and House of Representatives responded by quickly passing similar measures to allow veterans access to private care. But there was no cost estimate at that time, and the legislation bogged down over the $35 billion price tag forecast by the Congressional Budget Office.

Congress will need to move quickly on the Sanders-Miller deal, as lawmakers are due to start a five-week summer recess on Friday.

Reuters reporting from Washington by David Lawder; Editing by Bill Trott. Bangor Daily News staff writer Christopher Cousins contributed to this report.

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Rep. Mike Michaud was in Washington over the weekend negotiating the provisions of the bill. Michaud conducted the negotiations from Maine.

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