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Sanders, McCain reach bipartisan deal on bill to fix VA

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders

As Americans reflected on the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy, the recent scandal at the Dept. of Veteran Affairs and resignation of Secretary Eric Shinseki has created a shadow over the D-Day remembrances. But as the country takes a new focus on veteran's issues, Congress is beginning to step up to the plate.

On Thursday, in response to the VA scandal, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and John McCain (R-AZ) reached a bipartisan deal on a proposal to increase the accessibility of healthcare resources to our veterans. The bill includes a number of measures to remedy the poor treatment that veterans have received from the VA that have come to light during the investigation of the VA’s healthcare system, including unacceptable wait times and the lack of accountability by VA staffers for altering wait list records. 

The legislation, which is expected to come up for a vote in the full Senate next week, includes the construction of numerous VA medical institutions and a provision of $500 million for the hiring of medical professionals to staff the new facilities. The bill also gives veterans a two year trial-basis option to seek medical care at private facilities if they are experiencing extensive wait times at their current VA medical center or if they reside 40 miles or farther from the closest VA affiliated center.

Beyond healthcare considerations, the bill expands financial benefits for veterans and their surviving spouses at in-state educational institutions.

Sanders and McCain also emphasize accountability measures in the bipartisan agreement. Portions of the bill call for an easier firing process for VA staffers who are not meeting their job requirements.  Additionally, the bill envisions a partnership between a presidential commission and the private sector to evaluate and introduce new technologies to VA facilities.

This measure comes during a surge of support for the hiring of veterans into the workplace upon their return home and stronger mental health resources and suicide prevention efforts for veterans.