WASHINGTON-On July 31, the Senate passed a $17 billion bill that will overhaul the Veteran Affairs Department and a $10.8 billion highway bill before Congress leaves for the month of August.
In relation to Indian tribes, the bill would require the VA, in consultation with the Indian Health Service, to conduct more outreach to IHS and IHS-tribally contracted or compacted facilities to ensure they are aware of the opportunity to negotiate a reimbursement agreement.
It would also require the VA and IHS to jointly report to Congress, within 180 days of enactment, on the feasibility and advisability of entering into reimbursement agreements with Urban IHS centers and including treatment of non-Native veterans as a reimbursable expense under existing reimbursement structures.
The VA bill authorizes $5 billion to hire additional medical personnel and upgrade facilities for VA facilities.
The bill will also allow veterans to get treatment with non-VA providers if they do not receive an appointment or treatment within a certain time period or if they live more than 40 miles away from VA facilities. The bill authorizes $10 billion to pay for such treatment. The bill also authorizes the secretary for the VA to fire incompetent senior officials.
The highway bill temporarily extends funding for highway projects until the end of May 2015. If Congress did not act on the highway legislation before the August recess, the Transportation Department indicated that they would have to cut highway payments to states, putting many projects and jobs at risk.
Both measures now head to the president for signature. The president has indicated that he will sign both bills into law.