Senate Expected to Vote This Week on Bill Expanding Private Vets Care

An icy fog cloaking the Capitol begins to give way to the morning sun in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
An icy fog cloaking the Capitol begins to give way to the morning sun in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Senate is expected to vote this week on major legislation to expand the private health care options for veterans. The vote is timed to beat an end-of-May deadline when the existing Veterans Choice program will run out of money.

In a tweet Monday, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said, "Great news! The Senate is voting on the #VAMISSIONAct this week.

This legislation will dramatically change the way the @DeptVetAffairs delivers care to veterans."

Isakson and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, ranking member of the committee, also scheduled a news conference Tuesday with major veterans service organizations to marshal support for quick passage of the VA Mission Act.

The House last week by a vote of 347-70 passed the Mission Act in an effort to get a bill to the desk of President Donald Trump by Memorial Day, May 28.

The bill would provide $5.2 billion to extend the current Choice program while streamlining its multiple community care options into one program to improve access.

"This legislation addresses a number of important pieces of the large VA puzzle, including extending funding for the Choice program that countless veterans depend on to receive care," Rep. Martha Roby, R-Alabama, said in a statement supporting the House version of the Mission Act.

In a statement last week when the House passed the bill, acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie pushed for rapid full passage.

"With this strong bipartisan showing in the House, I urge the Senate to bring the bill across the finish line as soon as possible so that President Trump can sign it by Memorial Day," he said. "Our nation's heroes deserve a big win, and this bill does just that."

Last Friday, Trump announced that he was nominating Wilkie, who had been the Pentagon's undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness before moving to the VA, to become permanent VA secretary.

Trump called on the Senate to move quickly on Wilkie's nomination, but there was no immediate word from Isakson's committee on when a confirmation hearing would be held. Wilkie has already gained Senate confirmation for two previous Pentagon posts.

Last Thursday, Wilkie signed a $10 billion, 10-year contract with Cerner Corp. of Kansas City to provide electronic health records for the VA that would mesh with those of the Defense Department and private care facilities.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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