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House VA Committee Considers Draft Bill to Improve VA Research

July 16, 2021

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CONTACTS
Christa Wagner, Senior Legislative Analyst

The House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a legislative hearing on July 14 to discuss draft legislation to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) research program and other health care-related bills.

Full committee Chair Mark Takano (D-Calif.) testified on his draft legislation, the VA Infrastructure Powers Exceptional Research (VIPER) Act. He noted that the bill would “give VA the additional authorities it needs to make its world-class research program even more efficient, innovative, and successful as a direct means of improving the lives of the veterans it serves.”

“It's no secret that VA research is a jewel in VA's crown, and we need to ensure that VA can continue to be competitive in hiring the finest scientists to understand, prevent, and treat the health challenges veterans face from the effects of military toxic exposures and chronic pain to post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury,” Takano added.

Specifically, the draft legislation includes provisions to:

  • Remove the VA from Paperwork Reduction Act requirements.
  • Authorize funding for VA research physical and information technology infrastructure in fiscal year 2022.
  • Authorize a career development award grant program for medical research at smaller doctoral/professional (R3) institutions.
  • Allow for the payment of outside earned income to VA researchers.
  • Expand hiring authorities for certain classes of researchers.
  • Give authority to the VA secretary to enter Other Transaction Authority agreements for research purposes.
  • Waive certain limits on intergovernmental personnel agreements.
  • Require a Government Accountability Office study on dedicated research time for clinician scientists and researchers.

Witnesses from the VA and veterans service organizations shared their support for the VIPER Act during the hearing. Takano stated his hope to introduce the VIPER Act as a bipartisan, bicameral bill in the coming weeks.

The committee also considered H.R. 913, the Build a Better VA Act, which is legislation to address physical infrastructure needs at the VA. This topic was also discussed at a full committee hearing on May 27 in light of President Joe Biden’s proposed $18 billion investment in VA hospital infrastructure in the American Jobs Plan [refer to Washington Highlights, May 28].

The Build a Better VA Act would allow for congressional approval of VA medical facility leasing proposals. Bill sponsor and subcommittee Chairwoman Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) noted that leasing would allow the VA to be “nimble” and “offer greater flexibility” in providing health care to veterans, and the bill would allow leasing projects to advance more expeditiously. VA witness David Perry, chief officer of workforce management and consulting at the Veterans Health Administration, also shared the agency’s support for the bill in his opening statement.

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