Washington, DC, United States (4E) – The U.S. Senate voted 93-3 Wednesday to pass a bill authorizing $35 billion in funding to improve the Veterans Affairs’ health service.
The bill sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) allows veterans to seek treatment at private hospitals, hire more VA doctors and nurses, add more veterans care facilities and give the VA secretary more power to fire erring senior executives without pay.
The passage of the senate bill came a day after the House passed a similar bill in response to the VA scheduling scandal that reportedly led to the deaths of 40 veterans in Phoenix and Monday’s findings by VA auditors that more than 57,000 veterans have been waiting more than three months to get an appointment and health care at 731 hospitals and clinics across the country.
Under the senate bill, vets who cannot get appointments for timely care and live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA healthcare facility may opt for private care. The VA will also lease properties to put up 26 new major medical facilities in 18 states.
About $500 million will be allotted for the hiring of more doctors and nurses. Sexual assault treatment would be expanded and commissions will be created to review antiquated VA computer systems and construction programs.
In April after a whistleblower revealed that staffs are falsifying records to hide long wait times for patients to be scheduled for treatment. The scandal led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki last month.