Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, stands in the Capitol, Feb. 27, 2014, in Washington, D.C.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Bernie Sanders to introduce new VA bill

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, plans to introduce a new bill to address widespread problems with the Veterans Affairs health care system.

Sanders announced details of his bill on his website Sunday, after a report from the VA Inspector General’s office found systemic failures that have led to long wait times for veterans in need of health care. The report found that 1,700 veterans in the Phoenix VA system were waiting for care but were not on any official waiting list, leaving them at risk of being lost in the system.

“There must be a culture of honesty and accountability within the VA and people who have lied or manipulated data must be punished. But we also have to get to the root causes of the problems that have been exposed,” Sanders said in a statement. “The simple truth is that with 2 million more veterans coming into the system in recent years there are many facilities within the VA that do not have the doctors, nurses and other personnel that they need to provide quality care in a timely way.”

The Restoring Veterans’ Trust Act would make it possible to remove senior executives in the VA system based on poor job performance, authorize new health care facilities in 18 states, and make it possible for veterans to get care at places like community health centers or private doctors if appointments with VA doctors aren’t available. It would also provide funding to hire more doctors and nurses.

Sanders’ proposal does still include some protections for officials being removed from office. While a bill that passed the House last month would have allowed the VA Secretary to fire top officials, Sanders’ bill preserves due process for executives facing termination for poor performance, “preventing wholesale political firings,” as his office put it. 

The Senate Veterans Affairs committee, which Sanders chairs, will consider the bill at a hearing on Thursday. Sanders has been outspoken about the need to provide more resources for veterans. In February, he attacked Republicans for killing a bill that would have expanded health care and education programs for veterans and vowed to try again.