The Free Press, Mankato, MN


June 8, 2014

Our View: VA funding deal should pass quickly

Why it matters: It's time for this issue to rise above partisan politics and find some solutions even if they are temporary. Our veterans deserve that.

While national media and partisan politicians froth over one American soldier released by the Taliban, more reasoned and practical minds in Washington are working on a real crisis — the VA health care failures that affect far more.

The Senate Armed Services Committee last week announced it had reached a bipartisan — we underscore bipartisan — agreement to temporarily help the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has been under attack recently for providing inadequate care, at the very least.

The bill provides the agency with $500 million so it can hire more doctors and nurses and let veterans to be cared for outside the system. It also gives the VA administration more authority to fire employees for incompetence. And it would authorize the VA to sign leases for 26 major medical facilities in 18 states and Puerto Rico.

It was announced by committee chairman Bernard Sanders, I-Vermont, who earlier had presented a far more expensive package to Congress.

The agreement is not the best for either party, and frankly looks like a hastily constructed stopgap measure. But this is not the first time funding for the VA has been an issue, and unfortunately for our servicemen and women, ideology has halted any progress.

Under Sanders’ earlier bill, the Democrats presented a puffed-up $21 billion package that did work to reduce the VA backlog and opened more care to veterans, but it also tried to provide all the answers for many veterans issues at once – health care, employment and education.

The Republicans argue publicly they wanted the bills presented separately and a carefully considered long-term plan on reform. Privately they wanted to include sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program and the Democrats would not allow that option.

As one veterans group representative said in February, “Republicans blame Democrats. Democrats blame Republicans. And veterans are caught in the crossfire.” Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iran and Afghanistan Veterans of America, continued, “Veterans don’t have time for this nonsense.”

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