Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and John McCain, R-Ariz., have struck a deal on new legislation designed to reform the embattled Veterans Affairs health care system, they announced Thursday.
Speaking on the Senate floor, Sanders laid out details of the bipartisan proposal: resources for 26 new VA facilities in 18 states, $500 million to hire more doctors and nurses, provisions to improve the quality of care for survivors of military sexual assault, as well as provisions designed to help veterans and family members access higher education.
“We have a crisis on our hands and that it is imperative that we deal with this crisis,” Sanders said.
“Our hope is that perhaps we could put some of our other differences aside that have beset us as a body and move forward and address this legislation as quickly as possible,” McCain added.
Sanders has been pushing for VA reform for months, but Republican opposition doomed an earlier piece of legislation. McCain has been outspoken about the need for changes to the system since a retired VA doctor alleged in April that long wait times for appointments with the Phoenix VA health care system led to the deaths of at least 40 veterans.
Retired Gen. Eric Shinseki resigned as Veterans Affairs secretary on May 30, after an interim report by the VA inspector general’s office found “systemic” problems in the VA system’s scheduling procedures. The report also found that the Phoenix VA had some 1,700 veterans waiting for care who had not been added to any official waiting list.
On Thursday, one of President Obama’s picks for a top VA position withdrew his nomination. Jeffrey Murawsky, a regional director for the VA health network based in Chicago, had been tapped to be the undersecretary for health care, the top health position in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.