VA overhaul garners overwhelming support

Move comes on heels of series of revelations

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Congress last week passed a bill aimed at reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs, an agency that has been the subject of intense scrutiny over a number of departmental failures.

The $16 billion legislation would provide money for new VA medical facilities and the hiring of more doctors and nurses.

The bill would also allow veterans to see doctors outside the VA system if they are unsuccessful in obtaining an appointment.

A congressional conference committee worked to merge efforts by the Senate and the House of Representatives and came up with a compromise bill that passed the Senate on July 31 with overwhelming bipartisan support. It passed the House the day before.

“I think veterans are going to be better served now and the VA is going to be a better organization by veterans being able to vote with their feet if they're not getting adequate care,” said Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora, a Republican and veteran who serves on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

The bill is a response to several alarming departmental failures that came to light in recent months.

A federal audit shows that more than 57,000 veterans have waited at least three months to see a doctor, while others who asked for appointments never received one. Some veterans died while waiting months for an appointment.

Other findings have shown that VA employees — whose bonuses are tied to wait time reductions — falsified reports to hide information about long wait times.

The scandal led to the resignation of department director Eric Shinseki in May. The Senate on July 29 confirmed Robert McDonald as the department's new secretary.

The bill would require that the agency send veterans to private health providers when the department is unable to provide care within 14 days.

The legislation would also ban bonuses for VA employees and puts in place greater oversight over the department's operations.

Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Golden said he is particularly happy about being able to provide funding for more doctors and nurses, which he hopes will put an end to extraordinary wait times for appointments.

“I think this is going to benefit our veterans in both the short term and long term,” Perlmutter said.

Members of Congress hope the legislation is the beginning of the end to an embarrassing ordeal.

“Our veterans have made incredible sacrifices and we owe it to them to fulfill the promises we have made,” said Republican Rep. Cory Gardner of Yuma. “What's happened at the VA over the last several years has been shameful and unbecoming of the type of respect and the oath we have made, the solemn obligation we have made to our vets.”