Sanders, McCain Reach Agreement on Veterans Bill

WASHINGTON, June 5 – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) today reached a bipartisan agreement to improve veterans’ access to health care and address serious problems facing the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“While this is not the bill that I would have written, we have taken a significant step forward with this agreement,” said Sanders.

At a time when VA medical facilities in parts of the country have waiting lists that are too long, this legislation would give veterans access to  private doctors, community health centers, Department of Defense medical facilities and facilities funded by the Indian Health Service.

The bill would provide for the immediate firing of incompetent high-level officials but also includes an expedited appeals process to prevent the new authority from being abused for political purposes or other reasons.

The measure provides for the hiring of new medical personnel in an expedited manner at hospitals and clinics that lack enough doctors, nurses and other medical staff to provide quality care in a timely manner and ensures dedicated funding is available to hire health care professionals.

At a time when new construction is needed for VA health care around the country, this legislation allows VA to lease 26 new medical facilities that would expand access to care.

The bill also would allow veterans living more than 40 miles from a VA hospital or clinic to access more convenient private care.

The measure calls for independent commissions to look at how the VA can do a better job in terms of scheduling appointments as well as a commission on VA construction.

Among other veterans issues which have enjoyed widespread, bipartisan support in Congress, the bill would make certain that all recently-separate veterans taking advantage of the Post 9/11 GI Bill get in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.  It also, for the first time, would extend Post 9/11 GI Bill education benefits to surviving spouses of veterans who have died in the line of duty.