Two House Committees April 17 held hearings on Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issues. The House VA Committee convened to hear testimony on pending legislation, while the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military, Construction, and VA (MilCon-VA) held a Member Day hearing on the President’s budget request for FY 2019.
The House VA Committee’s hearing on seven pieces of proposed legislation included H.R. 1506, the VA Health Care Provider Education Debt Relief Act of 2017. The bill was introduced in 2017 by Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.) and was a topic of a previous hearing in the committee [see Washington Highlights March 24, 2017]. The bill increases the maximum amount of debt reduction available to Education Debt Reduction Program participants by $30,000 over 5 years, for a total of up to $150,000. In this hearing, Rep. O’Rourke cited AAMC’s data on medical school attendance costs. He testified that H.R. 1506 will “provide additional support for the rising cost of attendance for medical school … [and] increase the VA’s recruitment and retention capacity for high need and difficult to fill medical provider positions.”
In the MilCon-VA Member Day hearing, Reps. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.) raised similar issues regarding the President’s FY 2019 budget. Both members noted their concern of the request to merge the Medical Community Care and Medical Services accounts. Rep. Takano called this proposal “misguided," adding that it "will make it harder for Members of Congress to provide critical oversight of how the VA spends its funding for medical care.” Rep. Takano also commented on the nationwide doctor shortage and the additional impact on understaffing at the VA. He emphasized the importance of maintaining graduate medical education through the VA to train the next generation of VA health care providers. The House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health previously hosted a hearing on the FY 2019 budget [see Washington Highlights March 16].