The U.S. Senate voted Thursday to pass a proposal from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla. -- the chairmen of their respective chambers' Veterans Affairs Committee, reforming the U.S. Veterans Affairs department -- sending $17 billion to help its medical facilities.
The new funds, which will be used over the next three years, come in the aftermath of reports across the nation detailing altered wait lists at VA facilities. As a result, Eric Shinseki resigned his post as VA secretary back in May. The agreement designates $10 billion for veterans to seek private care if dealing with extended waits at VA medical centers. Veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA medical center will also be eligible for private care. The agreement also designates $5 billion to add more medical personnel to VA centers.
The proposal passed the House earlier in the week and passed the Senate 91-3 on Thursday. Both of Floridas two senators -- Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio -- supported the measure. Opposition came from three Republican senators: Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Sessions of Alabama.
This bill keeps our commitment to the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our country," Sanders said. It makes certain that we address the immediate crisis of veterans being forced onto long waiting lists for health care. It strengthens the VA so that it will be able to hire the doctors, nurses and medical personnel it needs so we can permanently put an end to the long waiting lists. It addresses the very serious problem of accountability and makes certain that dishonest and incompetent senior officials do not remain employed at the VA.
Planes and tanks and guns are a cost of war, Sanders added. So is taking care of the men and women who use those weapons and fight our battles.
The VA needs reform, and this new law provides many new tools to help right the ship, Rubio said after the vote. This law wont solve every problem, but it will make it easier to fire bad managers when theyre failing at their jobs. For too long, too many people working at the VA have operated in a culture that led them to believe they could get away with lying to our veterans and not treating them with the utmost respect and efficiency. This is a chance to sweep the culture of incompetence and recklessness out the door. Its critical that Congress continue exercising its oversight role to ensure this law is properly implemented and that new problems that arise are swiftly dealt with.
Miller cheered the news as the bill now heads to President Barack Obama.
Sen. Sanders and his colleagues deserve credit for taking action to address VAs delays in care and accountability crises, Miller said. We are now just one signature away from making government more accountable and providing veterans with real choice in their health care decisions. I am confident the president will do the right thing and sign this bill into law.
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