House Panel OKs Advance Funding for VA

• Revise rules for proving combat-related disability claims, making it easier for women and support troops to be approved for benefits and health care.

• Expand health care for women veterans.

• Improve opportunities for vocational rehabilitation, work-study programs, and internships and on-the-job training programs.

• Order VA to compile a complete list of scholarships available to veterans and survivors.

Approval of HR 1016, the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009, came on a 21-0 vote that masks an undercurrent of controversy and the possibility that an amendment to the bill —approved on a 17-8 vote — might derail the whole package.

At the urging of its ranking Republican, Rep. Steve Buyer of Indiana, the committee expanded programs that would be covered by advance funding to include information technology and research for medical and prosthetic devices.

That could present a problem: The 2010 budget plan approved by Congress created a loophole in requirements to pay for pending legislation, limited to advance funding for Veterans’ Health Administration accounts for medical services, support and compliance and facilities.

That means someone in the House of Representatives could raise a budgetary point of order against the measure when it comes up on the House floor.

Committee staff seemed unsure when asked by lawmakers whether a point of order would kill the whole bill or just the advance funding for information technology and research, but either circumstance could send the measure — the top priority for veterans groups — back to the committee for revisions.

“I don’t want to gamble that we could lose everything,” said Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, who voted to expand accounts included in the bill when staff said they didn’t think the full bill would fall to a point of order.

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved a similar advance funding bill in May that did not veer from the three items listed in the budget resolution, but the committee has not yet cleared its version of the bill for consideration on the Senate floor.

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