Senate passes $16.3B veterans health care bill

Senate passes $16.3B veterans health care bill

VETERANS AFFAIRS:Bob Brown, an 87-year-old World War II veteran from Perry Kan., speaks with U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, left, and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, right, during their visit to the Colmery-O'Neil Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Friday, June 13, in Topeka, Kan. Some Kansas veterans can't get medical appointments at U.S. Veterans Affairs facilities and are having scheduled checkups canceled as the dates approach, the two members of the state's congressional delegation said after touring the in Topeka VA medical center. Photo: Associated Press/John Hanna

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate late on Thursday overwhelmingly gave final congressional approval to a $16.3 billion plan to ease long health care delays at the scandal-plagued Veterans Affairs Department, adding the bulk of the cost to the federal deficit.

The 91-3 vote sends the measure to President Barack Obama to be signed into law just before Congress starts a five-week summer recess.

The plan, which contains $10 billion in new emergency spending that is not offset by any budget savings, aims to clear months-long waiting lists for health care appointments at VA hospitals and clinics across the country.

It allows veterans access to private doctors at the department’s expense if they are forced to wait more than 30 days for an appointment or live more than 40 miles from a VA facility.

It allocates $10 billion to pay for this, but allows the private care arrangement for three years.

It is unclear how long that money will last. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated a $35 billion cost through 2017, and the ultimate price tag depends on how many veterans opt for private care and how quickly the VA can build up its internal treatment capacity.

The agency has been rocked by scandal over cover-ups of months-long waiting times in dozens of cities, prompting the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in late May.

In Phoenix, doctors have alleged that some 40 veterans died as their names languished on secret waiting lists while officials misrepresented wait-time data to meet targets for bonus compensation.

“If there was ever a definition of an emergency, that emergency faces us today because our veterans are not receiving the care that we owe them as a nation,” said Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican. “There are veterans who are dying as we speak for lack of care.”

The measure, passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday by a 420-5 vote, also grants newly confirmed VA Secretary Bob McDonald sweeping new authority to fire poor-performing employees.

The former Procter & Gamble Co chief executive will have significant new resources at hand to boost VA’s capability, including $5 billion to hire more doctors and nurses and more than $1.3 billion to open 27 new clinics in 18 states.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

Latest Headlines

in Local

Woman Dies In Single-Car Crash Near Medway


State Police say a woman was killed Sunday morning and her husband was injured in a one car crash in I-95 just south of Medway.

in Local

Walmarts Evacuated After Bomb Threats


A series of automated voicemail bomb threats caused several Walmarts to be evacuated across the state Saturday evening.

in Local

Maine Police: 6 Fires Intentionally Set Along Interstate 95


Maine State Police say they are looking for a white sedan with two men inside who may be responsible for setting six fires along a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 95 southbound from Waterville to Sidney.

in Local

Methamphetamine Continues to be a Problem in Maine


Maine's heroin epidemic is getting much of the attention from law enforcement officials and policymakers, but methamphetamine continues to be a persistent problem.

in Local

Maine Asking For Help Tracking Invasive, Destructive Moth


AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry is asking for the public's help in locating destructive winter moth populations around the state.


  • 5h
  • 5h
  • 16h
  • 17h
  • 25h
  • 42h
  • 56h