OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Sanders to unveil new VA reform bill

THE TOPLINE: Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is set to spend Monday night drafting legislation aimed at ending mismanagement in the besieged Veterans Affairs Department.

The bill, a summary of which was released on Sunday, would grant the new secretary of the Veterans Affairs expanded authority to dismiss executives for poor performance. It would also allow veterans to seek medical care at private facilities and create incentives, such as student loan forgiveness, to attract healthcare professionals to the VA.

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The measure is an alternative to one being pushed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that would grant a new VA chief power to fire officials found responsible for mismanagement, sexual harassment and bullying behavior. A similar measure passed the House last month 390-33.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is set to introduce a third VA bill with Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C), the ranking member on the Veterans’ Affairs panel, during a press conference on Tuesday.

Sanders is due to unveil the details of his proposed bill when his committee convenes on Thursday.

VETS FOR THE VA. The Obama administration should tap veterans with combat experience in America’s most recent wars to reinvigorate the VA, a key veterans group proposed.

“What we need is a Marshall Plan for veterans,” according to Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans.

The recommendation was part of an eight-plank proposal to “turn the corner on decades of failure” at the agency. Other proposals include a criminal investigation into the wrongdoings at VA medical facilities and the Senate passing the VA accountability bill that breezed through the House last month.

Rieckhoff said the new VA chief should aim for a “massive talent infusion” of recent veterans at all levels of the agency.

However, Rieckhoff demurred at what he would say if asked to serve at the agency.

“I love my job right now. And I love New York City, which is where I live, so I’m not thrilled about the idea of moving to Washington,” he said. He added that he would “be happy to sit down with the president and figure out the plan ahead.”

LAWMAKERS VOW TO PROBE BERGDAHL TRADE: The exchange of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban commanders kicked up a whirlwind of partisan bickering across Washington.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said his panel would investigate if President Obama “broke the law” by not informing Congress of the trade 30 days in advance.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) to follow McKeon’s lead and hold hearings to look into the swap, saying the administration had released the “Taliban Dream Team.”

The Michigan lawmaker announced late on Monday that the panel would meet behind closed doors to hear testimony from DOD officials on the prisoner exchange.

The White House vigorously defended the deal. Press secretary Jay Carney said the transfer “should not have come as a surprise” to lawmakers.

"We have been engaged in an effort for years, as we should have been, to recover Sgt. Bergdahl, a prisoner of war in Afghanistan," Carney told reporters at the daily briefing.

He cited Bergdahl’s health after five years in captivity as one of the reasons why the administration moved so quickly.

Carney also dismissed Republican concerns that the deal would lead to more U.S. troops being taken hostage in the future only to be used as bargaining chips.

PENTAGON IMMIGRATION RULE DELAYED: The White House has asked the Defense Department to halt a plan that would allow more young illegal immigrants to join the military.

The decision to intervene was made in the hope that by delaying the review for a few months, House Republicans may be prompted to act on comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

The Pentagon allows certain immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children but receive work permits under the president’s deferred action program to sign up for the military. The program only lets in a certain number of individuals with specific language and medical skills to join.

Defense officials in recent weeks had said they hoped to implement the program but the move by the White House threw cold water on the initiative.

"The president is convinced there is a legislative opportunity, and that gives us the best opportunity to fix what's broken in our immigration system," White House spokesman Bobby Whithorne said in a statement. "He wants to leave no stone unturned to make sure the House takes that opportunity, follows the Senate's lead and takes action."

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

-Ex-Sen. Webb not interested in leading VA

-Dem demands that VA release more information

-Measure would cover veterans’ college application under GI bill

-Biden to attend Ukraine inauguration

-Bergdahl in stable condition, doctors say

 

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