The familiar military acronym for frustration — snafu, among others — seems to capture the findings of a Department of Veterans Affairs audit that has prompted an uncharacteristically vigorous response on Capitol Hill.
U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and John McCain, R-Ariz., put a bipartisan deal together that passed the Senate Wednesday. The legislation seeks to speed up delivery of care to veterans by hiring more doctors and nurses, expanding VA facilities, allowing outside care and reforming VA management practices.
House members approved a bill Tuesday to speed up service and access. The topic is so politically sensitive the Republican-led House reopened the voting so everyone got on record. No dissenting voters were cast.
The bill had a quick turn around because it mirrors legislation that had already received support in the Senate and House earlier this year, but then ran into targeted objections that brought it to a halt.
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The estimated tab for these changes is $500 million, though news accounts quote VA officials who put the figure at $300 million, and say the money will come from the agency’s existing budget. The Senate-passed measure has a dollar figure, the House-passed bill does not.
The immediate response will be to expand clinic hours and pay for veterans to use outside providers.
Further stalling by lawmakers was not acceptable. This is a longstanding pledge of medical care, and a debt of honor, that is owed to America’s veterans. They did not create the need for this treatment, it resulted from their willingness to answer the call from elected officials to go fight two long wars.
The audit lists nine VA facilities in the Northwest region that will require further review after the initial audit findings.
This has been a tortuous path for veterans shunted aside and prevented from receiving care by all manner of administrative scams and deceit. As a result President Obama accepted the resignation of VA chief Eric Shinseki, another casualty of the scandal. This week the FBI acknowledged a criminal investigation of the VA have been launched.
The Senate compromise deal also provides Obama with more leverage to shuffle VA management throughout the system. Phoenix, in McCain’s home state, was one of the worst examples of bureaucratic abuses.
The necessary fixes come with a high price. Pay it, and provide the care that was earned and promised.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).