Senators back funding for criminal probe of VA

Senators on Tuesday approved funding for a Justice Department criminal investigation into the Veterans Affairs Departmnt waiting list scandal. 

A Senate Appropriations subcommittee authorized the funding in a $51.2 billion spending bill that will get a full committee vote on Thursday. The House last week approved similar language as part of a floor amendment to its version of the Commerce, Justice and Science bill.

“Whether there are criminal charges is up to the DOJ, but there ought to be a very thorough investigation,” Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said. 

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Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said she put the money in the bill in part due to “skepticism” that the VA could investigate itself.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki stepped down on Friday, after an initial probe found hundreds of veterans were improperly put on a secret waiting list at a VA hospital in Phoenix.

“While others have called for this investigation, Shelby and Mikulski have put money in the federal checkbook to pay for the investigation,” Mikulski said.

The bill is one of the most likely of the 12 annual spending bills for 2015 to be enacted on it own. The House passed a version of the bill last week that provided the same level of funds, putting the two chambers on the same page. The funding in the bill equals a cut of $398 million below the current level.

Mikulski, in her remarks at the subcommittee markup, emphasized she was putting $439 million more into space programs than the administration wanted.