CORRECTED-Veterans funding deal to provide $17 bln to ease medical wait times

Mon Jul 28, 2014 2:07pm EDT

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(Corrects funding figure to about $17 billion from $17.5 billion)

WASHINGTON, July 28 (Reuters) - Leaders of the Veterans Affairs committees in Congress on Monday said they had agreed on legislation providing about $17 billion in funding to ease long waiting times for VA medical centers.

Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent, and Representative Jeff Miller, a Republican, announced the deal at a news conference after negotiating during the weekend to resolve differences in bills they proposed last week.

The VA has been rocked by a scandal over cover-ups of months-long waiting times for medical appointments at its clinics and hospitals across the country. In Phoenix, doctors have alleged that some 40 veterans died as their names languished on secret waiting lists while officials misrepresented wait-time data to meet targets for bonus compensation.

The controversy led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in late May, and the Senate and House of Representatives responded by quickly passing similar measures to allow veterans access to private care. But there was no cost estimate at that time, and the legislation bogged down over the $35 billion price tag forecast by the Congressional Budget Office.

Congress will need to move quickly on the Sanders-Miller deal, as lawmakers are due to start a five-week summer recess on Friday. (Reporting By David Lawder; Editing by Bill Trott)

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