WASHINGTON — In the wake of a revelations that officials at veterans hospitals across the country have been manipulating patients’ appointment times by creating secret waiting lists, two senators reached a bipartisan accord on Thursday to give authority to the acting Veterans Affairs secretary to fire senior officials and to expand access for veterans who do not live near medical facilities or have experienced long waits.
Senator Bernard Sanders, independent of Vermont and the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, bypassed the normal committee process and worked around Republican leaders in both chambers who were seeking a more narrowly focused bill. The resulting agreement addresses crucial concerns of both parties.
The measure — which could come to the Senate floor as early as next week — is likely to be the main legislative response to the scandal, which led to the resignation last week of Eric Shinseki as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The agreement could defuse partisan tensions that have arisen since the first reports of long waiting lists and the news that some veterans had died awaiting care. Mr. McCain’s seal of approval — he is a former prisoner of war — and his willingness to take on members of his own party, will make it difficult for Republicans to oppose a solution to a problem that they elevated into a national scandal.
“Bernie Sanders and John McCain are close to opposite on almost every issue,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who encouraged the two men to work on an agreement. “But the power of veterans’ issues allowed them to come together with a fair compromise.”
The agreement was announced on the same day that the department’s acting secretary, Sloan Gibson, visited the veterans hospital in Phoenix that had come in for some of the worst criticism since the scandal broke. He said results of the nationwide audits of scheduling practices and wait times would be released on Monday. “Our first and immediate priority is to get veterans off wait-lists and into clinics,” Mr. Gibson said.