Congress is coming together trying to fix healthcare problems plaguing the Department of Veterans Affairs, and local veterans hope the bill is approved and helps them get the care they need.
In the Bay area, patients report facing long wait times for appointments.
"Delayed, deny and hope that I die, because then they don't have to pay anything," says Vietnam veteran Carolyn Ramsey. She says that's the impression many vets have of the VA.
Ramsey served in the Army for seven years, but says she's spent the past 16 years fighting for her benefits. Now, she's finally getting screened for cancer at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital in Tampa.
"You join the military. You go when, you go where you're told to go and you do what you're told to do. Then, when you need help once you get out, then they keep giving you the run-around," Ramsey said.
She's not alone. A mix-up in paperwork at the VA forced veteran Joseph Kramer to wait months for a follow-up appointment after doctors discovered a cyst on his brain.
"Am I going to live, am I going to die, is it operable or what," said Kramer, an Iraq War veteran.
What does he want from the VA? "Do the right thing," Kramer said.
That's what Rep. Jeff Miller from Florida insists lawmakers are trying to do. "We have a serious problem that needs to be resolved. The VA has caused this problem," Miller said.
The new bill allows veterans who have been waiting more than a month for treatment, or live more than 40 miles from a VA facility, to go to a private doctor. It provides the VA with $10 billion in emergency funds to cover those costs.
Another $5 billion would help the VA hire doctors and other staff. "Thank God, because we really need it," Ramsey said. "We need more doctors. We need more staff. We need more equipment."
Another $1.5 billion provides funding to lease 27 additional clinics. Rep. David Jolly said that he hopes to see relief for local vets. "This bill should provide for additional facilities, and one of those facilities should be here in the Bay area," Jolly said.
Jolly insists, there's more work to be done. "This is an emergency bill. To me, this does not represent the long-term historic reform that's needed. What this'll do is give additional authority to the VA to begin to clear the wait-list immediately," Jolly said.
The House and Senate both hope to vote on the bill by the end of the week, before the August recess, then, send it to President Barack Obama to sign.
Here's the statement from the Haley Veterans' Hospital and clinics about the tentative deal:
"While I cannot comment specifically on pending legislation, the VA acting secretary (Sloan Gibson) has made it clear that the challenges VA health care faces today can be turned into the greatest opportunity for improvement in the history of the department.
"Here at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital and Clinics, we recognize that timely access to care is essential to positive outcomes and remain committed to improving health care access. The opening of the Primary Care Annex located at 13515 Lake Terrace Lane, Tampa FL the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony is scheduled for August 4th at 2:00 pm for the newly constructed Primary Care Annex located at 13515 Lake Terrace Lane, Tampa FL.
"The Primary Care Annex will create additional access for Veterans, includes a new Dental Center and a comprehensive Women's Center for our women Veterans. Across the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital and Clinics, we continue offering extended hours and weekend appointments. James A. Haley Veterans Hospital and Clinics continues to use community providers when unable to meet clinical demands in a timely manner or when highly specialized care is not available within VA.
"The James A. Haley Hospital and Clinics' staff continuously strives to improve interactions with patients and provide 5-star patient-centric service through the delivery of quality, timely and coordinated health care. Veterans deserve nothing less and we work hard to provide this each and every day."
Rep. Gus Bilirakis, vice chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, issued the following statement:
"This agreement will help veterans get more timely access to quality care. It will authorize leases for critical new VA clinics, including a single, consolidated clinic in Pasco County. I am thrilled local veterans will soon have improved access to a new, one-stop VA clinic. To ensure the best possible access to care for Pasco's veterans, it was important that the Pasco lease was included in the final compromise between the House and Senate.
"Ultimately, this compromise was about providing veterans with timely access to quality care. The VA has systemic failures that promote a culture of mediocrity and discourage transparency and accountability, which has resulted in a backlog of Veterans' claims and excessive wait times to receive care. This bill will also allow Veterans to receive care outside of the VA – if the Veteran so chooses, and contains other measures to get these Veterans the care they deserve and have earned."
The troubled at VA facilities has been going on a long time: