(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Updated 4:16 p.m. | Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., announced a bipartisan VA health care deal Thursday afternoon.
Sanders, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs chairman, and McCain met Thursday to negotiate a bipartisan response to the scandal at the VA — and they announced the deal on the Senate floor.
“We were able to come together, I believe, in a way that will help to relieve this terrible tragedy that seems to have befallen our nation’s veterans,” McCain said. “We both had to make some very tough compromises.”
“Our job was to sit down and work out the best agreement. We did,” Sanders said. “Does it solve all of the problems facing our veterans? Absolutely not.”
The deal includes accountability measures allowing immediate firing of Department of Veterans Affairs officials, leases for 26 new VA major medical facilities and authorization to hire new doctors and nurses.
Notably, it would also allow veterans to get private care if they are experiencing long wait times or are more than 40 miles from a VA facility. The provision would last for two years and then be evaluated to see if it addresses the issue. What counts as unreasonable will be determined by the VA.
Sanders said that allowing private healthcare providers to solve the problem was a significant concession for him, because he is concerned about privatization of the system. “It opens up a fear of privatization, which I am strongly, strongly opposed to,” Sanders said.
It also includes other issues, including in-state tuition rates for all veterans at public colleges and universities. Surviving spouses of soldiers who die in the line of duty would also get tuition aid.
The measure is expected to cost less than $2 billion and will be classified as an emergency appropriation, meaning it would not have to be offset under budget rules. Full story