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Senate passes bipartisan bill offering veterans more medical care options

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan measure aimed at easing healthcare delays for veterans by giving them more access to private care and allowing the Department of Veterans Affairs to open more clinics and hire more medical staff.

The vote in the Democratic-led Senate followed unanimous passage on Tuesday in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives of a similar bill to address a crisis that has embarrassed the Obama administration and prompted Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to quit.

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Lawmakers must now iron out differences between the House and Senate versions before voting on a final package that could be signed into law by President Barack Obama. The Senate measure matches several provisions passed by the House to address a crisis unfolding in the run-up to November’s congressional elections.

Provisions passed by both chambers would allow veterans to visit private doctors at VA expense if they are forced to endure long waits for appointments at VA clinics or live more than 40 miles (64 km) away, and would give the VA secretary more power to fire or demote employees for poor performance.

(Reporting by Will Dunham and David Lawder; Editing by Jim Loney and Peter Cooney)

[Image: “Soldier Having Counselling Session,” via Shutterstock]

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Mass rally marks six-month anniversary of Hong Kong protest movement

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Hong Kong democracy protesters are hoping for huge crowds later Sunday at a rally they have billed as a "last chance" for the city's pro-Beijing leaders in a major test for the six-month-old movement.

The march comes two weeks after pro-establishment parties got a drubbing in local elections, shattering government claims that a "silent majority" opposed the protests.

But activists say public anger is building once more after chief executive Carrie Lam and Beijing ruled out any further concessions despite the landslide election defeat.

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Pensacola gunman showed mass shooting videos at party: report

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The Saudi military student who carried out a deadly shooting spree at a US naval base showed videos of mass shootings at a dinner party the night before the attack, The New York Times reported Saturday.

The shooting Friday in a classroom building at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida left three dead and eight wounded, including two responding sheriff's deputies.

The revelation about the dinner party came as authorities probed whether the shooter had any accomplices.

"We're finding out what took place, whether it's one person or a number of people," President Donald Trump told reporters. "We'll get to the bottom of it very quickly.

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Sesame Street still going strong after 50 years

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Generations of children around the world have grown up learning their ABCs and 123s from the lovable muppets on "Sesame Street," and as the pioneering television program turns 50, it's as popular as ever.

It's also about to earn one of America's top cultural awards, to go along with a pile of nearly 200 Emmys -- at a gala in Washington on Sunday, it will be the first TV show to earn the Kennedy Center Honors.

Since its debut in November 1969 on American public television, the famous address has taken on many forms, in more than 150 countries.

In Afghanistan, it's "Baghch-e-Simsim." In Latin America, it's "Plaza Sesamo." And in Arabic-speaking countries, it's "Iftah Ya Simsim."

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