Senate negotiators reached a bipartisan deal on Thursday to ease healthcare delays at the Department of Veterans Affairs as the agency’s acting boss revealed that 18 veterans on a secret waiting list had died while waiting for VA care in Phoenix.
The Senate plan was quickly put together to address a crisis that has embarrassed the Obama administration and worried lawmakers in the run-up to November’s mid-term elections.
If passed, it would allow veterans more access to private doctors and give the VA new authority to open 26 clinics, hire more doctors and nurses and fire poor-performing staff.
It was reached after rare bipartisan negotiations led by Senator John McCain, a Republican, and Bernard Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.
The scandal over widespread schemes to mask the long delays prompted allegations from VA doctors in Phoenix that 40 veterans had died while waiting for appointments at VA facilities there. Last week, it brought the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.
His replacement, VA Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson, told reporters in Phoenix that VA staff in recent days had contacted 1,700 veterans whose names appeared on secret waiting lists for care and found that 18 of them had already died.
Gibson said some of the 18 had initially contacted the VA for “end of life care” but he added that it was “inexcusable” that so many veterans were left languishing on a secret waiting list and vowed change.
“This is not what our veterans deserve; this will not stand,” said Gibson, who joined the VA in February. “I will not be part of some effort to maintain the status quo here.”
Sanders, who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said lawmakers from both parties are “appalled” by the delays and cover-ups in Phoenix and elsewhere.
“We have a crisis on our hands and it is imperative that we deal with that crisis,” Sanders said on the Senate floor.
The proposed legislation, targeted for a Senate vote next week, would authorize leases for 26 new major clinics in 18 states and use $500 million in leftover funds to hire new VA doctors and nurses to speed veterans’ access to care.
In a two-year pilot project, veterans would be able to seek outside healthcare at VA expense if they experience long wait times for appointments or if they live more than 40 miles (64 km) from a VA hospital or clinic.
Sanders said the VA would determine the appropriate wait time trigger but added that it may be longer than the agency’s now-abandoned 14-day goal.
The bill would allow the immediate firing of VA executives responsible for the cover-ups and other deficiencies. It would offer them the opportunity to appeal within seven days, with a final decision due within 21 days.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), an independent watchdog agency, said on Thursday it was probing 37 allegations that VA whistle blowers who disclosed poor scheduling practices were unfairly disciplined.
(Additional reporting by Emily Stephenson in Washington and David Schwartz in Phoenix; Editing by Bill Trott and Cynthia Osterman)
Trump ‘reached into the Genesis chapter of the bigot’s bible’ to attack the Squad: journalist
On Tuesday, journalist Jamil Smith wrote a column scorching President Donald Trump's attacks on "The Squad," as an act of utmost bigotry — and narcissism.
"Trump would surely love to run against these four women in 2020 rather than an actual opponent, positioning them all as racial bogeymen," wrote Smith. "It's a royal flush for his racist campaign: two black women, including one who wears a hijab and is a Somali refugee; a boricua from the Bronx; and a first-generation Palestinian-American from Detroit."
House of Representatives votes for resolution condemning President Donald Trump’s racism
President Donald Trump was condemned by the House of Representatives on Tuesday for his racist attacks on young women of color in Congress.
The resolution was passed with the support of every Democrat. The final vote was 240-187.
The text said "Trump’s racist comments have legitimized fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color."
The resolved that the body "strongly condemns President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color by saying that our fellow Americans who are immigrants, and those who may look to the President like immigrants, should “go back” to other countries, by referring to immigrants and asylum seekers as “invaders,” and by saying that Members of Congress who are immigrants (or those of our colleagues who are wrongly assumed to be immigrants) do not belong in Congress or in the United States of America."
Legendary civil rights icon John Lewis unloads on Trump from the House floor: ‘I know racism when I see it’
Civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) took to the floor of the House of Representatives to condemn racist statements by President Donald Trump.
As chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Lewis was one of the "Big Six" civil rights leaders who organized the 1963 March on Washington during with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous "I have a dream" speech.
"I rise with a sense of righteous indignation to support this resolution," Lewis began.
"I know racism when I see it. I know racism when I feel it," he explained. "And at the highest level of government, there’s no room for racism."