Lawmakers in the Senate reached a deal Thursday on the framework of a bill intended to address some of the recently uncovered issues related to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
From the Associated Press:
Senior senators reached agreement Thursday on the framework for a bipartisan bill expanding veterans’ ability to get health care outside the government’s scandal-beset Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics.
The bill would allow veterans who experience waits of 30 days or more for VA appointments or who live at least 40 miles from a VA hospital or clinic to use private doctors enrolled as providers for Medicare, military TRICARE or other government health care programs.
It would let the VA immediately fire as many as 450 senior regional executives and hospital administrators for poor performance. The bill resembles a measure passed last month by the House, but includes a 28-day appeal process omitted by the House legislation.
“Right now we have a crisis on our hands and it’s imperative that we deal with that crisis,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
The legislation is a response to a building national uproar over veterans’ health care following allegations that surfaced in April that as many as 40 veterans may have died while waiting an average 115 days for appointments at the Phoenix VA hospital or its walk-in clinics.
Since then, investigators have found long wait times and falsified records covering them up at other VA facilities nationwide.
The agreement was announced Thursday by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
Meanwhile, Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson arrived for a visit at the Phoenix VA Health Care System Thursday. He was expected to provide updates on what his office is doing to address the situation in which numerous veterans were intentionally left off of a wait list.
Gibson indicated that most of those veterans have since been contacted to schedule appointments.
Gibson on Wednesday said his agency had contacted nearly all of the veterans left off the list.
Gibson, who arrived at the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix shortly after 10 a.m., plans to address the issue, and he has said the department has reached out to every veteran identified in a VA inspector-general report “to discuss individual medical needs and immediately begin scheduling appointments.”
The report, released last week, found 1,700 Arizona vets who were seeking first-time appointments with primary-care doctors were excluded from the VA’s electronic waiting list. The inquiry confirmed “inappropriate” and “convoluted” scheduling practices at the Phoenix VA and systemically across the United States. The inspector general said the inaccurate reports on patient access led to bonuses and salary increases.
The bill announced Thursday would still need to go to the full Senate for approval, which could be as early as next week, reported CNN:
It still needs to go to the floor for approval of the full Senate. That could happen as soon as next week, according to aides.
Those aides predicted it probably would be approved because lawmakers are anxious to show their constituents they are responding to the scandal.
“Given the crisis we have right now, this is an important step forward,” Sanders said when announcing the agreement on the Senate floor.
“We were able to come together I believe in a way to help to relieve this terrible tragedy that seems to have befallen our nations’ veterans,” McCain said.
The news of the proposed VA legislation comes nearly a week after the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki.DONATE
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