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Bipartisan deal to allot $17 billion for VA reform reached

US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Congress has voted to authorize $17 billion to hire more doctors and nurses at VA facilities. $10 billion of that will go to help veterans unable to get prompt appointments at any of the 1,000 VA hospitals and outpatient clinics or who live more than 40 miles from a government facility to get outside medical care by paying non-governmental doctors to treat those who qualify. $1.5 billion has also been earmarked to lease 27 new clinics across the country.

“This bill makes certain that we address the immediate crisis of veterans being forced onto long waiting lists,” states Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs panel.

"It's very clear the status quo is not acceptable and it's time for real change," commented House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller said at a recent hearing.

Sanders and Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) were finally able to hammer out a deal over the weekend, after battling out terms for more than a month and a half. Both predict that it will pass by the end of this week.

Other aspects of the rare bi-partisan deal to reform management of the Department of Veterans Affairs also include expanding scholarship programs for vets, allow all veterans to qualify for in-state college tuition, and gives the VA secretary the power to fire senior executives immediately while providing employees with “streamlined” rights to appeal.

Although complaints about mismanagement at the VA have been going on for decades, it was not until a scandal broke earlier this year exposing a cover-up of deaths at the VA hospital in Phoenix. Outrage over this and the eventual discovery that similar cover-ups regarding delayed care were common at other VA facilities throughout the country eventually led to the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki in May after approximately 25 senators signed a letter calling for him to step down.

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