The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

VA health legislation fails to pass


U.S. Senator Mark Begich expressed frustration that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) is still recovering from years of flat funding, during which the United States engaged in two wars that resulted in 1.4 million additional veterans, and remains unable to deliver veterans the care they need and deserve. Begich highlighted the need for more funding during the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee meeting on Wednesday.

Sen. Begich makes the case for funding veterans’ health care at Wednesday’s

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee meeting.

“It’s amazing to me that people are treating this issue like it happened overnight,” said Begich. “There’s a January 2003 report that identified lack of capacity and lack of resources as the main problems preventing the delivery of adequate care. Back then 236,000 veterans were waiting more than six months for care. Because the system hasn’t been funded properly for more than a decade, the problems have continued to grow and compound.”

Begich is a co-sponsor of the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014, which passed the Senate in June, and he sits on the conference committee convened to iron out differences between the Senate bill and a similar bill approved by the House.

“It’s unconscionable that could we send brave Americans into harm’s way and not provide the resources necessary to take care of them when they return from war. We must pass this bill and soon,” said Begich. “Are we talking about a lot of money? Yes. Is it money that our veterans deserve? Yes. And if the conference committee doesn’t get to work resolving the differences between these two bills, veterans will continue to suffer.”

Begich noted the same frustration in a letter sent Friday to House and Senate leadership in which he called upon Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to stop stalling and instruct their members to get back to work on the legislation.

“I remain deeply concerned that the conference committee has met only once, on June 24, for speeches by its members,” said Begich in his letter. “I know members of my caucus are anxious to return to negotiations so that we can pass this bill to the President and quickly implement these vital improvements. I urge you to direct members of your party join us immediately to resolve the differences in the two pieces of legislation so that our nation can fulfill the promises to our veterans.”

During today’s meeting Begich noted that, while there is still more work to be done, Alaska’s success in resolving veterans care issues has resulted in drastically reduced waiting lists and wait times in recent years. Today, the Alaska VA has some of the shortest wait times in the nation. When Begich asked that the Alaska model be implemented across the nation, VA officials at the hearing called the Alaska model “trailblazing” and “a phenomenal system” and discussed efforts to implement the AK model in other states.


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