Sen. Sanders offers lower-cost bill to reform Veterans Affairs

Senate VA Committee chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders said Thursday that a new proposal to improve veterans' access to health care would cost less than $25 billion over three years, $10 billion less than a bill passed by the Senate last month.

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With Congress scheduled to recess in a week, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee's chairman has offered to scale back a Senate-passed bill to improve health care services for veterans.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Thursday that a new proposal to improve veterans' access to health care would cost less than $25 billion over three years. That is $10 billion less than a bill passed by the Senate last month and nearly $20 billion less than a House-backed measure. Both bills allow veterans to go to private doctors to avoid long wait times plaguing Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics.

The Obama administration says it needs about $17.6 billion to hire thousands of doctors, nurses and other health professionals, lease new facilities and upgrade its computers to reduce a backlog of veterans awaiting care at VA hospitals and clinics. The administration's request does not include money to make it easier for veterans to get health care from private doctors, the biggest cost in Congress's bills.

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Negotiations over a bill to bolster the beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs in response to a furor over long patient wait times and falsified records to cover up the delays have bogged down over costs and how much the VA should turn to outside doctors to address the backlog.

Republicans complain that Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson's budget request is thinly documented. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of a House veterans panel, told Gibson Thursday that he was surprised that such a large request was made in a slim, three-page memo.

At a hearing Thursday, Miller told Gibson that the request "makes it very difficult for us to do our job."

Gibson said the request reflected his judgment about what the department needs to serve veterans.

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