The Senate on Wednesday voted 93-3 for a bill to expand hospitals and clinics run by the Department of Veterans Affairs and to hire more doctors and nurses to provide timely, quality care for veterans.
The bill by Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders and Sen. John McCain would let veterans facing long delays for doctor appointments at VA facilities go elsewhere. Their measure also would hold VA officials accountable for trying to conceal patient wait times.
“Our job is to make certain that every veteran in the country gets quality health care in a timely manner,” Sanders said. “At a time when 2 million more veterans have come into the VA in the last four years, we must ensure that there are enough doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to meet the needs of veterans in every facility in the country.”
The Sanders-McCain emergency funding bill would:
- Authorize leases for 26 new medical facilities in 17 states and Puerto Rico.
- Designate funds for hiring more VA doctors and nurses to provide quality care in a timely manner.
- Expand existing VA authority to refer veterans for private care. Veterans experiencing long delays at the VA could seek care instead at community health centers, Indian health centers, Department of Defense medical facilities or private doctors. The two-year program also would offer those same options to veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA hospital or clinic.
- Give VA the authority to fire or demote senior leadership staff for poor performance but provide expedited appeals to the Merit Systems Protection Board in order to prevent abuses of the new management powers for political or other inappropriate reasons.
- Eliminate wait times as part of employee performance measures, which are used in determining bonuses for VA employees.
- Make certain that all recently-separated veterans taking advantage of the Post 9/11 GI Bill get in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. For the first time, those same education benefits would be extended to surviving spouses of veterans who died in the line of duty.
- Establish independent commissions on ways to improve the VA; one to look at how the VA can do a better job delivering health care and another to make recommendations on how VA can improve the management of construction projects.