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Senate OKs bill to help veterans get medical care outside VA

Updated August 2, 2017 - 7:32 pm

WASHINGTON — Under the deadline of a funding shortfall, the Senate passed a bill that provides a spending fix for veterans seeking medical care outside the Veterans Affairs system.

The Senate also voted to streamline the appeals process to address a growing backlog of challenges by veterans seeking benefits.

Senate approval of both bills late Tuesday follows House passage last week, with bipartisan support, and will help Nevada veterans, according to Silver State lawmakers who were instrumental in pushing the bills through Congress.

The VA Choice fix, providing $2.1 billion in emergency funding, was sponsored by Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., to help veterans get medical care outside the VA health system.

“The program also allows veterans living in rural areas to receive care near their homes,” Heller said. “Without funding for the program, rural veterans, like those in Ely, Elko, Winnemucca and Tonopah, would have to drive hundreds of miles to get care.”

The VA Choice bill passed on a voice vote in the Senate. It was approved by the House last week, 414-0. It now goes to the president for an expected signature.

The bill to streamline the VA appeal process also passed both chambers with bipartisan support.

There are currently more than 450,000 veterans, nationally, awaiting appeals. The backlog was expected to grow to 2 million by 2027.

Heller was a co-sponsor of the Senate bill, and Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., helped push the House version of the bill.

“I have been fighting for more than four years to reform the appeals process and warned a tsunami was coming,” Titus said in a statement. “It is clear that Congress and the VA finally listened.”

Heller said the legislation provides Nevada veterans with options to appeal a case and “compensate them for their injuries of war.”

“We still have a lot of work to do, and I’ll continue to hold the VA’s feet to the fire when it comes to reducing the claims and appeals backlog,” said Heller, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, will tour U.S. Veterans Initiative facilities in Las Vegas on Thursday.

U.S. Vets is a nonprofit group that provides housing, employment and counseling to veterans in five states, the District of Columbia and Guam.

Contact Gary Martin at 202-662-7390 or gmartin@reviewjournal.com. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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