Senate sends major VA reform bill to Trump's desk

Senate sends major VA reform bill to Trump's desk
© Greg Nash

The Senate easily cleared legislation on Wednesday overhauling medical care options for veterans, sending the bill to President TrumpDonald John TrumpJimmy Fallon responds to Trump: I'll donate to pro-immigrant nonprofit in his name South Carolina GOP candidate expected to make full recovery after car accident Official: US to present North Korea with timeline, 'specific asks' MORE's desk.

Senators voted 92-5 on the proposal, called the VA Mission Act, with only a simple majority needed to pass the bill. Sens. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersTrump's move to halt family separations leaves questions unanswered Sanders: 'Democrats have been serious about comprehensive immigration reform' Races to watch in Tuesday’s primaries MORE (I-Vt.), Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzDem senator: 'Stop pretending' law banning separation of migrant families is hard to pass Hillicon Valley: Judge approves AT&T-Time Warner deal in blow to DOJ | Dems renew push to secure state voting systems | Seattle reverses course on tax after Amazon backlash | Trump, senators headed for cyber clash | More Tesla layoffs Dems question FCC's claim of cyberattack during net neutrality comment period MORE (D-Hawaii), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyElizabeth Warren tours immigration center: 'It's a disturbing picture' Dem senator: If Nielsen doesn't reunite families, 'she should resign' Senate Dems call for Judiciary hearing on Trump's 'zero tolerance' MORE (D-Ore.), Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsMulvaney aims to cement CFPB legacy by ensuring successor's confirmation GOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border Trump, senators headed for clash on cyber policy MORE (R-S.D.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCorker: 'I think there's a jailbreak brewing' in opposition to Trump tariffs GOP scrambles to regain fiscal credibility with House budget On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Senators hammers Ross on Trump tariffs | EU levies tariffs on US goods | Senate rejects Trump plan to claw back spending MORE (R-Tenn.) voted against the legislation.

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With its passage, the bill will meet Trump's public deadline to act on the issue and arrive on his desk before Congress departs for a weeklong Memorial Day recess. The bill passed the House last week in a 347-70 vote.

The sweeping, $52 billion reform bill would overhaul medical care options for veterans, including giving them more access to private doctors and hospitals.

The legislation was expected to easily clear the Senate and won the support of both Sens. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonOn The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Senators hammers Ross on Trump tariffs | EU levies tariffs on US goods | Senate rejects Trump plan to claw back spending Senators hammer Ross over Trump tariffs Overnight Finance: Senators introduce bill to curb Trump's tariff authority | McConnell calls it 'exercise in futility' | Kudlow warns WTO won't dictate policy | Mulvaney feud with consumer advocates deepens MORE (R-Ga.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterMulvaney aims to cement CFPB legacy by ensuring successor's confirmation Donald Trump Jr. headlines Montana Republican convention Overnight Defense: Trump orders Pentagon to help house immigrant families | Mattis says 'space force' needs legislation | VA pick gets hearing date MORE (D-Mont.) — the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate's veterans panel.

The two held a press conference earlier this week with a coalition of veterans organizations to tout the bill ahead of a procedural vote.

"[This is] the last piece of a great mosaic to reform the veterans benefits for our veterans to make them contemporary with the 21st century and see to it that the best care, the best attention and the best legislation is in place," Isakson said.

The legislation also includes a one-year extension of the Department of Veterans Affairs's Choice program. Congress approved the program following a "systemic," nationwide scandal in which government watchdogs found that VA officials were manipulating data on how long veterans were waiting for a medical appointment.

The Choice program was scheduled to run out of money at the end of the month.

Critics of the VA Mission Act argue it goes too far toward privatizing health care for veterans and threatens to hollow out the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Sanders, announcing his decision to oppose the bill, said he was concerned it would continue a "slow, steady privitization of the VA" and "will open the door to the draining, year after year, of much-needed resources from the VA."

"I acknowledge the work done by some of my colleagues to improve this bill, but I believe it moves us too far in the direction of privatization. That is why I will vote against it," he said.