Senate passes bill to avert VA budget shortfall

The Senate passed a piece of legislation yesterday that will help the Veterans Affairs Department avoid a budget shortfall that could impact the care some veterans receive.

VA’s Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson asked Congress last month for greater flexibility in the funding appropriated for the Veterans Choice program in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget. This would help VA meet increased demand from veterans for health care services.

The Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act (H.R. 3236), which passed on a vote of 91-4, would allow the VA to transfer $3.348 billion from Veterans Choice to pay for veterans care at non-VA facilities.

“This legislation addresses the VA’s budget shortfall by reorganizing money they already have to better meet the needs of veterans,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, in a statement. “This bill will bring private sector is a force-multiplier for VA health care, and I thank my colleagues for the work they have donor services to our veterans without hindering the services they already receive from the VA. Choice to ensure that veterans receive the health care they deserve.”

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Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the committee’s ranking member, called Wednesday’s vote a interim step, with Congress still needing to come up with meaningful ways to ensure veterans have access to a strong health care system.

“I look forward to working with Chairman Isakson and committee members on both sides of the aisle to continue improving VA by increasing access to care,” he said. “Further changes to care in the community must be done in a bipartisan, thoughtful way to ensure the best care possible for veterans.”

The bill already passed the House and heads to President Barack Obama for his signature.

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