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Senate Passes Sanders’ Sponsored Veterans Health Care Measure

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The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved the Sanders-McCain Veterans Bill, which would expand hospitals and clinics run by the Department of Veterans Affairs and hire more doctors and nurses to provide care for veterans.

The Senate bill, approved 93-3, would authorize about $35 billion over three years to pay for the outside care for veterans. The bipartisan bill sponsored by Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders and Arizona Republican John McCain would allow veterans facing delays at VA facilities go elsewhere. The measure also would hold VA officials accountable for trying to conceal patient wait times. During floor comments, Senator Sanders noted that for years, there has been a need to build or expand VA medical and research facilities.  “This bill provides for 26 major medical facility leases in 26 states and Puerto Rico. This bill provides for the expedited hiring of VA doctors, nurses and other health care providers and $500 million dollars targeted to hire those providers with unobligated funds. No medical program, not in the private sector, not in the VA, not anywhere, can provide quality care in a timely manner if that program does not have an adequate number of doctors, nurses and other  medical providers.”

American Legion Past National Vice Commander Michael D. Helm is the National Commander's Representative to the National Legislative Commission. He is in Vermont this week and is considered the leading candidate to become the next national commander of the American Legion. Helm has served as the Legion’s Chairman of the National Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission.  “It’s a very important bill because we’re talking about a shortfall of care to veterans. We’re talking maybe 57,000 people that were having late appointments and maybe 60,000 veterans that weren’t being cared for at all because they just got tired of waiting.  So you’re talking over 100,000 veterans that were being under-served by the VA the way the system was working at that time. So this money is very important. It’s going to cover that shortfall in a timely manner.”

Vermont State Council Vietnam Veterans of America President Perry Melvin says they have been concerned that the VA has been unable to meet the needs of returning and existing veterans.  “The facilities from at least my understanding and what I’m seeing are overwhelmed.  It’s time that veterans are given a voucher to be able to seek services outside the VA in the hospitals nearby if that’s necessary and their local VA just cannot handle that volume. These veterans need to be seen right away. They can’t wait. Whether it’s the World War Two veterans that are in crisis or it’s our veterans that are coming out of Afghanistan right now. They need to be seen and they  need to be taken care of.”

Melvin says a voucher program is needed now because the timeline for bill’s plan to create more facilities and hire new personnel is uncertain.  “How long is it going to be before they can put 26 facilities in, when we have an immediate need?  That’s not going to solve things except down the road. We need care right now which means that we can’t overburden our VA’s any more than they are. How many physicians and nurses can be put in place? Certainly at some of these VA’s they’ve actually lost both physicians and nurses so, again, they can hire some that will take some of the need.  But again they going to have to depend our hospitals within the local areas to help serve this need until this crisis is over with.”

The Sanders-McCain bill closely resembles a measure approved Tuesday in the House. Senator Sanders hopes a compromise version will be brought to a vote as soon as next week.