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  • Washington Highlights

    VA Committees Consider Legislation, Advance Secretary Nominee

    Matthew Shick, Sr. Director, Gov't Relations & Regulatory Affairs
    Christa Wagner, Manager, Government Relations

    Both the House and Senate, the weeks of July 9 and 16, conducted business meetings and markups pertaining to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issues.

    The Senate VA Committee July 10 met to consider the nomination of Robert Wilkie to be the next VA Secretary. The business meeting followed the June 27 nomination hearing [see Washington Highlights June 29], and the committee favorably recommended the nomination to proceed to the full Senate by voice vote. A date for full Senate consideration has not been set.

    The House VA Committee July 12 held a markup of various pieces of legislation related to VA health care. Three bills reported favorably out of the full committee, including VET MD Act (H.R. 2787), VA Hospitals Establishing Leadership Performance Act (H.R. 5864), and to amend title 38, United States Code, to improve the productivity of the management of Department of Veterans Affairs health care, and for other purposes (H.R. 6066) [see Washington Highlights June 29].

    Regarding the appropriations process, both the House and Senate have named conferees to the conference committee that will finalize the fiscal year (FY) 2019 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (MilCon-VA) appropriations bill. The conference committee was slated to hold its first meeting on July 12, but has been postponed. Conferees cited the lack of funds for the new VA Community Care program established through the recently passed VA MISSION Act (P.L. 115-185) [see Washington Highlights, May 4] as a barrier to beginning negotiations.

    Chairmen of the Senate and House Budget Committees, Sen. Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), July 16 sent a letter to Appropriations Committee leaders urging the conferees to “prioritize funding for the programs authorized in the VA MISSION Act (P.L. 115-182) within the recently increased nondefense discretionary spending limits” rather than to raise budget caps to fund the health care programs.

    The Friends of VA Medical Care and Health Research (FOVA), of which AAMC is on the Executive Committee, sent a July 11 letter to House Appropriations Chair Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) encouraging the House conferees to adopt the Senate MilCon-VA bill’s funding level of $779 million for the VA Medical and Prosthetic Research Program for FY 2019.

    The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee July 18 amended and favorably reported the Department of Energy Veterans’ Health Initiative Act (H.R. 6398), a bill to authorize a collaboration between the VA and Department of Energy (DOE) beyond the Interagency agreement already established. Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) noted that the bill allows for a collaboration to “solve complex, big data challenges focused on veteran’s health care and basic science” through the use of DOE’s expertise in supercomputing, artificial intelligence, and database management. The bill requires the VA Secretary to devote $27 million to the collaboration over five years, funds which have been requested in the president’s FY 2019 budget request, are included in both House and Senate MilCon-VA appropriations bills, and are supported in FOVA’s FY 2019 budget recommendation.