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Tentative deal reached to fund fixes to VA health system

From Ted Barrett and Deirdre Walsh, CNN Senior Congressional Producers
updated 9:01 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Senate and House committees have reached a tentative deal to reform the VA
  • The troubled department was rocked by a waiting list scandal earlier this year
  • Officials: Legislation would "make the VA more accountable"

Washington (CNN) -- The chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees have reached a tentative agreement on a bill to reform the VA health system, aides to each of the men said Sunday, just days before Congress is scheduled to leave on its August recess.

The deal, which still needs to be approved by both chambers, is expected to address both short- and long-term needs at the department, which was rocked by a waiting list scandal earlier this year.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Rep Jeff Miller, R-Florida, scheduled a Monday news conference to outline their agreement.

A news release for that event said "Miller and Sanders continued negotiations this weekend and made significant progress on legislation to make the VA more accountable and recruit more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals."

A separate House Veterans Committee source confirmed a deal — but also declined to give the dollar amount.

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The Department of Veterans Affairs, a massive bureaucracy with more than 300,000 full-time employees, is under fire as it deals with allegations of alarming shortcomings at its medical facilities.

The controversy, as CNN first reported, involves delayed care with potentially fatal consequences in possibly dozens of cases. Eric Shinseki stepped down as head of the department in May after Republicans, Democrats and veterans' advocacy groups joined in calling for his resignation.

Bob McDonald, a West Point graduate and former CEO of Procter & Gamble, was tapped to become the troubled department's new head.

At the Veterans Affairs medical center in Phoenix, for example, a preliminary report made public in May indicated at least 1,700 military veterans waiting to see a doctor were never scheduled for an appointment and were never placed on a wait list.

CNN has reported that in Phoenix, the VA used fraudulent record-keeping -- including an alleged secret list -- that covered up excessive waiting periods for veterans, some of whom died in the process.

But the problems go well beyond Phoenix. Dozens of others of VA centers, all around the country, also face a host of allegations like possible abuse of scheduling practices.

"It is clear that there are significant and chronic systemic failures that must be addressed by the leadership at VA," said a report last month prepared by Rob Nabors, President Obama's deputy chief of staff.

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CNN's Ralph Ellis and John Crawley contributed to this report.

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