Members of Congress have been working overtime -- once again -- to prove that in their world even no-brainer, badly needed legislation desired by both sides of the political aisle must have drama.
On Monday, House and Senate negotiators from both parties reached a tentative deal to make significant changes to the operations of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
It’s about time.
Negotiators, who toiled through the weekend, were attempting to reconcile a pair of slightly different reform bills that had separately passed overwhelmingly in its house of origin.
It should have been a simple matter to combine the two bills and get each house to sign off on the changes before Congress adjourns for five weeks at the end of this week.
But there is no such thing as a simple matter in Washington these days.
As if to prove that point, negotiating sessions that should have been easy stalled last week and it appeared that a bill might not get passed before the recess, much to the disgust of many veteran legislators
But Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., who lead the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs committees, negotiated key elements of the deal and circulated it informally to colleagues on Monday.
The VA has been a shameful mess for many years and Congress has been struggling to get a handle on operations that had featured huge delays in processing benefit claims as well as lengthy backlogs in appointments at medical facilities.
But the VA issue was crystallized by disclosures -- first in Arizona and then in other places -- that the VA’s employees had been keeping two sets of appointment lists so as to deceptively obtain performance bonuses for supposedly cutting veterans’ wait times. The lists made it appear that veterans were getting timely appointments when they were not.
The investigative reports of the lists revealed that some veterans had died waiting for their phantom appointments.
Congress felt the sting of an outraged public and lawmakers set about to ensure that reforms are enacted.
We like one major element in the draft compromise that would remove scheduling and wait-times as factors in determining a VA worker’s performance.
Instead, most performance reviews would focus on the quality of care received by veterans. This should have been a bedrock principle long ago, but it certainly must be central to any reforms.
We will reserve final judgment on the specifics of this deal until we can study it in-depth, but it almost certainly will be a significant improvement over the current circumstance and should be a first step in getting veterans the benefits they have earned.
~Digital First Media,
Bay Area News Group