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Tentative agreement made on Veterans Affairs reform

BY MATTHEW DALY Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees have reached a tentative agreement on a plan to fix a veterans' health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., scheduled a news conference today to talk about a compromise plan to improve veterans' care.

Miller chairs the House veterans panel, while Sanders chairs the Senate panel.

A spokesman for Sanders said Sunday the men have reached a tentative agreement. The deal requires a vote by a conference committee of House and Senate negotiators, and votes in the full House and Senate.

Miller and Sanders said in a joint statement that they "made significant progress" over the weekend toward agreement on legislation to reform the Veterans Affairs Department, which has been rocked by reports of patients dying while awaiting VA treatment and mounting evidence that workers falsified or omitted appointment schedules to mask frequent, long delays. The resulting election-year firestorm forced VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign in late May.

The plan set to be announced Monday is intended to "make VA more accountable and to help the department recruit more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals," Miller and Sanders said.

Few details of the agreement were released, but the bill is expected to authorize billions in emergency spending to lease 27 new clinics, hire more doctors and nurses and make it easier for veterans who can't get prompt appointments with VA doctors to get outside care.

Louis Celli, legislative director for the American Legion, the nation's largest veterans group, said the deal would provide crucial help to veterans who have been waiting months or even years for VA health care.

Negotiations had appeared in jeopardy Thursday after Miller and Sanders announced their competing plans, then held separate news conferences lashing out at each other. The men resumed talks in private Thursday night.

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