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.
Yochi Dreazen is a Managing Editor for News at Foreign Policy. He is also writer-in-residence at the Center for a New American Security. His book about military suicide was published by Random House's Crown division in 2014.
Prior to joining Foreign Policy, Dreazen was a contributing editor at the Atlantic and the senior national security correspondent for National Journal. He began his career at the Wall Street Journal and spent 11 years at the newspaper, most recently as its military correspondent. He was born in Chicago, and later attended the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn, he edited the award-winning daily campus newspaper and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1999 with degrees in History and English. He was hired by the Wall Street Journal immediately after graduation. Dreazen arrived in Iraq in April 2003 with the Fourth Infantry Division, and spent the next two years living in Baghdad as the Wall Street Journal's main Iraq correspondent.
Dreazen has made more than 12 lengthy trips to Iraq and Afghanistan and has spent a total of nearly four years on the ground in the two countries, mostly doing front-line combat embeds. He has reported from more than 20 countries, including Pakistan, Russia, China, Israel, Japan, Turkey, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia.
In 2010, Dreazen received the Military Reporters & Editors association’s top award for domestic military reporting in a large publication for a series of articles about military suicide and the psychological traumas impacting veterans of the two long wars. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Smithsonian, Tablet and the New Republic and he appears regularly on TV and radio programs such as NPR's Diane Rehm Show and PBS' Washington Week with Gwen Ifill. Dreazen gives frequent lectures about journalism, the wars and current events to both civilian and military audiences.
Dreazen lives in Washington with his wife, Annie Rosenzweig Dreazen, and their beloved Golden Retriever, Charlie.| The Cable |
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |