WASHINGTON — The Senate passed a compromise bill allowing veterans to seek private care and adding $17 billion to the Department of Veterans Affairs to hire doctors to address long wait lists. The final vote in favor was 91-3.
The bill, which was rushed through before the August recess so it could be sent to President Obama, would require VA to make up $5 billion by taking it from other programs.
The House passed the compromise bill earlier this week.
Veterans enrolled in emergency care as of Aug. 1 who face long wait times, or live more than 40 miles from a VA facility could seek private care. It also gives VA $1.3 billion to open 27 new outpatient clinics, allows the VA secretary to fire top officials, allows veterans to qualify for in-state status for tuition at public colleges, and provides care for veterans who were sexually assaulted during their service.
It also cuts funding for VA employee bonuses by $40 million less than last year.
"The veterans of this country are entitled to quality and timely health care," Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said in a statement. "This legislation will take us a long way toward making good on that promise."
Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement, "When veterans are denied care, it's a priority deserving of bipartisan attention, and this legislation will help ensure the VA lives up to the promises that we made to our veterans. We owe them no less."
The three senators who voted against the bill were Tom Coburn, R-Okla., Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
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