Deal to Improve Veterans’ Health Care Costs $17B

WASHINGTON (AP) -

A bipartisan deal to improve veterans’ health care would authorize at least $17 billion to fix the health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays, the bill’s chief supporters said Monday.

The agreement includes $10 billion in emergency spending to make it easier for veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with Veterans Affairs doctors to obtain outside care; $5 billion to hire doctors, nurses and other medical staff; and about $1.5 billion to lease 27 new clinics across the country, the chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees said.

The bill also would expand a scholarship program for veterans to include surviving spouses of military members who died in the line of duty, allow all veterans to qualify for in-state college tuition, and grant the Veterans Affairs secretary authority to immediately fire senior executives, while providing employees with streamlined appeal rights.

The bill “makes certain that we address the immediate crisis of veterans being forced onto long waiting lists for health care,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs panel. The bill also “strengthens the VA so that it will be able to hire the doctors, nurses and medical personnel it needs so we can permanently put an end to the long waiting lists,” Sanders said at a news conference with Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., his House counterpart.

The Senate is expected to vote this week to confirm former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the new VA secretary, replacing Gibson.