The House easily approved a series of veterans-related bills on Tuesday, most notably catch-all legislation addressing everything from healthcare access to homelessness.
"This omnibus measure with more than 70 provisions is broad and comprehensive in scope and scale," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said after the House approved the eponymous Jeff Miller and Richard Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act.
"More veterans, including many at risk of homelessness, will receive the care and benefits they need and deserve," he continued. "VA hospitals will have better management of mental health counselors and emergency room doctors. Veterans' families will be helped by extending critical education benefits to surviving members. Work will finally begin to help descendants of veterans exposed to toxic substances."
The bill, which now moves to the Senate floor, was part of Congress's response to scandals within the Veterans Affairs Department that saw soldiers waiting so long for doctor appointments that some died. Some VA health clinics were over-prescribing opioids, and the VA had a massive backlog of claims benefits.
"We will never play politics with our veterans on my watch, and when we find a problem, we are going to fix it," Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., stated.
The House also signed off on a bill by House Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., that would create a VA pilot program allowing veterans to make their own doctor appointments.
"The best way to show our gratitude to those who have served in our military is to make sure they get the care they earned," McMorris Rodgers stated about the Faster Care for Veterans Act. "When a veteran contacts the VA, they should have the red carpet rolled out for them. Period. But instead, they face endless wait times and bureaucratic red tape. Each week several veterans contact my office for help getting care—or help getting the VA to even pick up the phone."
The House also passed the following bills: the Improving Broadband Access for Veterans Act, which would require the Federal Communications Commission to study how to expand Internet access for veterans; the Ethical Patient Care for Veterans Act, which would the require VA to remind its doctors of their ethical and legal obligations to report any incompetent or unethical care they witness a colleague providing a veteran within five days; and the Department of Veterans Affairs Emergency Medical Staffing Recruitment and Retention Act, which would allow VA doctors and physician assistants to exceed weekly work-hour totals as long as they do not put in more than 2,080 hours in a year.
It also cleared for the president's desk the Charles Duncan Buried with Honor Act, which would allow the VA to provide caskets or urns for veterans whose relatives cannot be found.
All the legislation was passed by voice vote except for the omnibus Miller-Blumenthal bill, which was approved by a vote of 419-0 and the broadband measure, which was adopted on a 411-4 vote.