This post has been updated.
In a rare moment of bipartisan cooperation, Congress approved a $16.3 billion plan to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has been dogged by allegations of mismanagement and neglect, including that it allowed veterans waiting for medical care to die. The Senate approved the bill in a 91-3 vote on Thursday, one day after the House version passed by a vote of 420 to 5. The bill now goes to the president’s desk where it is expected to be signed into law.
"We are now just one signature away from making government more accountable and providing veterans with real choice in their health care decisions," said Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. "I am confident the president will do the right thing and sign this bill into law."
House and Senate negotiators worked over the weekend to iron out differences between their chambers’ competing bills. After seemingly reaching an impasse, Miller and his Senate counterpart, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), said they struck a deal Sunday evening. The compromise legislation would give the VA $5 billion to hire more medical staff and allot $10 billion for veterans to receive health care at private clinics. It also would give the VA $1.5 billion to lease facilities around the country so that department doctors can reduce the backlog of patients awaiting care. VA facilities have been overwhelmed by an influx of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Veterans groups offered broad support for the bill upon passage. "Today is a great – and long overdue – day for America’s veterans and their families," said Pete Hegseth, CEO of Concerned Veterans for America. "After a long and difficult fight, Concerned Veterans for America is proud to say that the two transformational principles of reform we fought for from day one-accountability and choice-are in this bill."
The bill comes six months after reports, led by CNN, surfaced that at least 40 veterans had died while waiting for care at a VA facility in Arizona. The scandal prompted an internal VA report that found systemic problems at VA facilities around the country, resulting in patients waiting for weeks and sometimes months to receive care. The widespread fury on Capitol Hill led to the ouster of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who resigned in May. On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Robert McDonald, the former chief executive of Procter & Gamble, as his successor.