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POLITICS: PennAve

Lawmakers announce bipartisan deal to reform veterans' medical care

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Senate,Veterans Affairs,Health Care,PennAve,Bipartisanship

Senate lawmakers announced a bipartisan agreement on reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs, but the bill could face opposition from Republican lawmakers who want to amend it.

Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., announced the deal on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon.

The bill would provide veterans “choice cards” to allow them to obtain private medical care if they face long wait times at VA hospitals. It would also give the VA secretary expanded power to quickly fire or transfer poorly performing senior executives.

The bill appears to be a hybrid of a GOP bill announced earlier this week and legislation unveiled Sunday by Sanders.

The GOP bill, authored by Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Richard Burr of North Carolina, called for the privatized care and firing power for the VA secretary. Sanders' legislation included expanded services for veterans and some of those provisions were included in the compromise bill.

They include hiring more nurses and doctors at VA medical centers, in-state tuition for all veterans at public universities and other benefits.

“This legislation empowers our veterans with more flexibility to choose the health care they've earned while bringing much-needed accountability to VA operations, including the ability to immediately fire poor-performing employees with no pay during the appeals process,” McCain said.

But McCain added that he wants an opportunity to vote on amendments to the legislation.

The compromise bill excluded some key provisions supported by McCain, such as the requirement that VA hospitals publicly disclose wait times.

The bill did not include many of the expanded benefits Sanders wanted in the legislation, including an expansion of veterans care for medical problems not related to military service.

But it includes expanding VA hospital leases to 26 new facilities, a provision favored by Sanders.

“That will help us, in many parts of the country, in providing the quality, timely care our veterans deserve,” Sanders said upon announcing the deal.

The VA system has been plagued by problems, including long waiting lists for medical care and evidence that senior executives destroyed records to cover up mismanagement. According to a report by the VA inspector general, vets at the Phoenix VA medical center wait to see a doctor for an average of 115 days. The IG also discovered a list of 1,700 vets waiting for care who were inexplicably excluded from an electronic waiting list, leaving them in limbo.

Burr, the top Republican on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, said the two parties were obligated to work out a bipartisan deal.

“Veterans should not have the care they deserve and need waylaid by partisan bickering,” Burr said when announcing the deal.

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Susan Ferrechio

Chief Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner