Senate approves veterans' care bill
Veterans who can't quickly get an appointment at a Department of Veterans Affairs medical facility or who live far from one would get free private health care under a bill the Senate passed overwhelmingly on Wednesday.
The Senate's 93-3 vote occurred a day after the House voted 421-0 on a similar bill. The bills would make it easier to fire senior VA officials who underperform or lie about their performance and would make the federal government pay for private health care for veterans who either can't get a VA appointment within 14 days or who live more than 40 miles from a VA hospital.
Lawmakers wrote the bills in reaction to a growing scandal in which VA officials allegedly hid long wait times to meet service goals set by leaders in Washington and to obtain bonuses. U.S. Reps. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, and Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, said VA Pittsburgh Director Terry Gerigk Wolf was told not to disclose a secret wait list in Pittsburgh, which VA workers have been whittling down in recent weeks.
“There needs to be a change in the leadership culture of the VA,” Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, said before voting for the bill. “They tolerated a culture in which the dishonest reporting of waiting periods is all throughout the VA.”
The FBI opened a criminal investigation into the VA, FBI Director James Comey told the House Judiciary Committee. He didn't elaborate on the probe, but said it will be led by the Phoenix field office, which has been the focus of allegations that veterans died while awaiting care.
The Senate bill includes about $35 billion over three years to pay for outside care for veterans, as well as hire hundreds of doctors and nurses, and lease 26 new health facilities in 17 states and Puerto Rico.
“This is only a start,” said Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Scranton, who voted for the bill. “We need to continue to address the claims backlog, as well as employment, education and other health care issues that are important to veterans and their families.”
Projected to cost $1.5 billion over 10 years, Toomey said, the bill passed as an emergency measure to get around spending caps set in 2011. The House legislation, which doesn't include money for facilities or doctors, would cost $620 million, the Congressional Budget Office said.
Some Senate Republicans objected to the lack of offsets elsewhere in the federal budget.
“I feel strongly that we've got to do the right thing for our veterans, but I don't think we should create ... an unlimited entitlement program,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., one of three senators who voted against the bill.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who co-authored the bill with Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, noted that spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were approved through emergency funding.
“Surely we can spend one-tenth of one percent (of the wars' projected costs) to take care of the men and women who fought those wars,” Sanders said.
The Associated Press contributed. Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7900 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers RB Archer trying to catch up after tough rookie season
- Steelers LB Timmons has grown into leadership role on defense
- Pirates third baseman Ramirez’s last ride is about winning a ring
- Steelers notebook: Backup QB Gradkowski remains out with shoulder issue
- Dollars and sense: High cost of child care keeps many out of work force
- Former Cal U football player cleared of assault charges sues university, police, prosecutor
- Penguins to appear on national TV 18 times in 2015-16
- Ambridge’s PittMoss takes off with help from TV show, Mt. Lebanon native Cuban
- Gameday: Pirates at Twins, July 28, 2015
- ‘Real’ people, solutions at heart of GOP ad blitz in Pa.
- Last option for former Jeannette Glass site: Pa. Supreme Court