The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

June 5, 2014

Senate moves toward vote on VA health care

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate is moving forward on a compromise bill to help veterans avoid long waits to see a doctor and make it easier to fire administrators who falsify records to cover up long wait times.

Hopes for a vote as soon as Thursday have dimmed, but senators said they would press ahead on a measure to address an uproar over veterans' health care following allegations that veterans have died while waiting to see a Veterans Affairs doctor.

Senators had wanted to pass the bill before Friday's 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Europe in World War II. Up to a dozen senators were expected to attend the D-Day ceremonies in France.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, had said Wednesday he was "cautiously optimistic" that a vote could be held Thursday.

Sanders and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona were leading negotiations on the bill, holding two closed-door meetings Wednesday to iron out details.

But a spokesman for Sanders said Wednesday night that talks would continue Thursday, making an immediate vote unlikely. Senators fly to France on Thursday evening.

"Chairman Sanders held productive discussions today with Sen. McCain and others about how to provide high-quality health care to veterans in a timely manner," Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs said.

Sanders "hopes to reach an agreement to take before the full Senate as soon as possible," Briggs added.

Talks on the bill were resuming as the Obama administration's new veterans affairs chief visits the Phoenix hospital at the center of allegations that veterans died while waiting to see a VA doctor. Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson was scheduled to tour the Phoenix hospital and speak with officials there. A former clinic director has said up to 40 veterans may have died while awaiting treatment in Phoenix.

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