The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee members have unanimously supported the controversial veteran’s omnibus bill in order to taking the first step in reforming VA operations. It is now forwarded to the Senate floor for consideration.
It should be noted here that the votes came two weeks after the initial unveiling of the plan by the committee leaders. If passed, the plan would become the most significant piece of veterans reform legislation in the past two years.
According to Committee Chairman Sen. Johnny Isaksori, R-Ga, the vote represents a strong support for the bill and has downplayed the enormous criticism it had initially received.
He added, “Anybody can find a fault with a bill this comprehensive. I don’t think we have all the good ideas. But we have to get the football in play and start moving down the field. I look forward to working with the House on all the things they have concerns about.”
The plan focuses on a massive expansion of VA’s program for caregivers of veterans injured during battle. This would include health benefits, stipends and other kind of support for professionals who will provide full-time care. Many groups of veterans have appreciated the bill’s proposition. In addition, these groups have also shown their support for the new assistance for homeless veterans, improvements to health care programs and expansion of eligible veterans for education benefits.
On the other hand, many have also questioned the overall cost involved in the measure and if the estimates presented by the committee are realistic or not.
Isakson is of the view that the $ billion costs of the program are covered through multiple saving measures, which would leave the bill with a surplus of approximately $330 million or more.
However, the bill’s provisions dealing with the VA employee accountability and the inclusion of a cut in GI Bill housing stipend growth are the two most controversial parts. Many House lawmakers have already threatened to put these aspects on the sidelines while some of them are asking for completely eradicating them from the bill.
There are many accountability issues that the bill does not tackle or create such as limiting the amount of time any VA employee can be placed on administrative leaves and ceasing bonuses for many workers. In addition, it also gives the VA leaders authority to dismiss any employee any time. However, according to the members, this would help the VA tackle workers who commit off-duty criminal acts yet stay on the payroll due to certain complicated firing issues.
Many Union leaders and White House officials have rejected such bills in the past, considering them a violation of workers’ rights. For instance, under this plan, disciplinary decisions would be completed in 110 days which are currently taking approximately 400 days to be complete. The House plans to trim down to 52 days for appeals and rulings to make the process more efficient.