On July 31, the U.S. Senate, following the lead of the House of Representatives, voted to approve legislation injecting more than $16 billion into the Veterans Administration in order to help the VA healthcare system overcome the extensive treatment delays that have caused the agency to endure considerable public criticism this year.
The Senate voted 91 to 3 to approve that legislation, which now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature. That bill was passed along with a transportation bill providing $11 billion in stopgap highway funding, as senators and representatives prepared to dash out of Washington for the August recess.
The bill’s passage followed the Senate’s unanimous conformation this week of former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald to head the agency. McDonald will replace Eric K. Shinseki, who resigned in May amid reports of falsified scheduling records and extensive delays at VA hospitals.
The bill provides $10 billion for military veterans to seek care from non-VA healthcare providers using “Veterans Choice Cards,” if they have waited more than 30 days for an appointment, or if they live more than 40 miles from a VA hospital, the Washington Post reported. It also designates about $6.3 billion for additional medical staff and emergency leases for extra space, with the goal of increasing access to care and adding capacity, particularly in areas where veterans live far from the nearest clinic, the newspaper reported. It was drafted by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Jeff Miller (R.-Fla.).