Senate

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 Trump’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 Sanders (I-Vt.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Bob Corker (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 Isakson (R-Ga.) and Jon Tester (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. 

Tags Bernie Sanders Bob Corker Brian Schatz Donald Trump Jeff Merkley Johnny Isakson Jon Tester Mike Rounds United States Department of Veterans Affairs veterans health care

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