Sanders, McCain work on compromise VA bill

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday said they were discussing a compromise that would merge their dueling bills to overhaul the Veterans Affairs Department’s health system.

Sanders, who postponed a June 5 hearing that would have taken up his proposed legislation to improve the VA’s medical network, met with McCain earlier in the day.

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“The issue is waiting times. The issue is how do we make sure every veteran in this country can get into a VA facility in a reasonable time. And if they can’t, what do they do?” Sanders, the Veterans Affairs Committee chairman, told reporters.

He said he would like to see an agreement “as soon as possible” but did not offer a timeline for the negotiations.

Sanders this week rolled out a summary of his bill, which gives the VA secretary new powers to fire senior executives for poor job performance and, in certain cases, allows veterans to seek treatment at private facilities or community clinics.

McCain’s bill, unveiled Tuesday, would issue “choice cards” to veterans that allow them to see a non-VA provider within a 40-mile radius if they do not receive a timely appointment. Republicans are rallying around McCain's proposal, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the White House are working with Sanders on his bill.

McCain, a Vietnam War veteran, said it was “fundamental” that any compromise allow veterans “the right to choose the healthcare of their choice.” He told reporters that he would meet with Sanders again.

He added that if a deal could not be reached, Reid should allow both measures to reach the chamber floor and be improved through the amendment process.

McCain stopped to recognize Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), the head of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, who was on the Senate side to meet with lawmakers.

The House last month easily passed legislation championed by Miller that would grant the VA secretary the authority to fire officials found responsible for mismanagement, sexual harassment and bullying behavior.

“You’re doing a great job,” McCain told Miller. “Your reward will be in heaven not here on earth.”

Miller told reporters that he would also meet with Sanders later on Wednesday to discuss the many VA overhaul bills offered on Capitol Hill.

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