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 TrumpHouse Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report DOJ plans to release 'lightly redacted' version of Mueller report Thursday: WaPo Nadler accuses Barr of 'unprecedented steps' to 'spin' Mueller report 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) SandersOvernight Health Care: DOJ charges doctors over illegal opioid prescriptions | Cummings accuses GOP of obstructing drug pricing probe | Sanders courts Republican voters with 'Medicare for All' | Dems probe funding of anti-abortion group Ex-Obama campaign manager: Sanders can't beat Trump Booker calls for sweeping voting rights reforms MORE (I-Vt.), Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzHillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Lawmakers, tech set for clash over AI Lawmakers weigh challenges in fighting robocalls MORE (D-Hawaii), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts Long-shot goal of nixing Electoral College picks up steam MORE (D-Ore.), Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsGOP gets used to saying 'no' to Trump On The Money: Wells Fargo CEO steps down | Trump vows to keep funding for Special Olympics | House panel approves marijuana banking bill | Controversial Fed pick gains support in Senate Controversial Fed pick gains support in GOP Senate MORE (R-S.D.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge GOP gets used to saying 'no' to Trump Democrats introduce bill to rein in Trump on tariffs MORE (R-Tenn.) voted against the legislation.


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 IsaksonCongress punts on disaster aid amid standoff with Trump, Dems Overnight Defense: Transgender troops rally as ban nears | Trump may call more troops to border | National Guard expects 3M training shortfall from border deployment | Pentagon to find housing for 5,000 migrant children Pompeo: Russia complying with nuclear treaty that's up for renewal MORE (R-Ga.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) Tester20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall Overnight Energy: Bipartisan Senate group seeks more funding for carbon capture technology | Dems want documents on Interior pick's lobbying work | Officials push to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US Bipartisan senators want 'highest possible' funding for carbon capture technology 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.