(WASHINGTON) — In a rare moment of bipartisan, bicameral unity, Congress has approved a deal to add $15 billion and institute reforms at the Veterans Administration.
The agency has been plagued by scandal; staffers routinely falsified wait times for veterans seeking care, and gamed internal procedures to hide the delays. Dozens of veterans died while reportedly waiting to see doctors.
The scandal resulted in the ouster of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
After the House passed the measure on Wednesday, the Senate followed suit Thursday. The VA deal sailed through two votes: an 86-8 vote to waive budget rules, and a 91-3 vote to pass the bill and send it to President Obama’s desk.
After weeks of negotiations, the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees this week reached a deal to provide $10 billion in, “mandatory emergency money” to contract health care outside the VA system. An additional $5 billion, offset by spending cuts within the VA, will go to hiring new doctors and nurses. Veterans living more than 40 miles away from a VA facility will be able to obtain care outside the VA network.
On the floor before the final vote, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., thanked Sen. John McCain for intervening and making sure the deal was approached by “serious negotiators.”
On Tuesday, the Senate approved Shinseki’s replacement, voting 97-0 to confirm former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the next Veterans Affairs secretary.
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