FILE - This May 8, 2014 file photo shows Sylvia Mathews Burwell, President Barack Obama’s nominee to become secretary of Health and Human Services testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Senate has confirmed Burwell as the nation’s new health secretary and steward of the president’s health care law. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

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The Cincinnati VA Medical Center is seen Thursday, June 5, 2014. Rob Nabors, center, President Barack Obama's deputy chief of staff, is torring the facility as part of his review of veterans' health care and is set to report his findings to President Obama later this month. (AP Photo/Amanda Lee Myers)

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Details of the bill

Firing: VA secretary would be able to immediately fire or demote senior officials tied to mismanaged or delayed care.

Care: Veterans could go to a private facility if the wait at a VA facility was too long.

Staff: The bill would authorize VA to sign leases for 26 major medical facilities in 18 states and Puerto Rico and to spend $500 million on new doctors and nurses.

What’s next

Monday: Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson said he will release the results of a departmentwide audit; the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee plans to hear testimony from watchdog agencies about patient-scheduling problems.

Next week: It will be debated by the full Senate and to be sent to the Republican-controlled House.

Senate agrees on VA changes

  • Article by: Jonathan Weisman and Jennifer Steinhauer
  • New York Times
  • June 5, 2014 - 8:56 PM

– Senators reached a bipartisan accord Thursday to bolster the authority of the acting veterans affairs secretary, allowing him to fire senior officials and to expand health care access to veterans on long waiting lists at the department’s hospitals.

The deal is likely to be the main legislative response to the scandal involving secret waiting lists and other efforts to paper over waits for veterans seeking health care.

In the short run, the agreement would authorize veterans to seek care from private doctors, paid for by the Department of Veterans Affairs. That provision would apply to veterans who are stuck on a waiting list or who live 40 miles or more from one of the department’s medical centers. It also would authorize the department to lease 26 major medical facilities in 18 states and Puerto Rico to try to shrink the backlog.

The acting VA secretary said Thursday that an additional 18 veterans in the Phoenix area whose names were kept off an official electronic VA appointment list have died — the latest revelation in a growing scandal over long patient waits for care and falsified records covering up the delays at VA hospitals and clinics nationwide.

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said he does not know whether the 18 deaths were related to long waiting times.

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