House approves bill that allows veterans to bypass VA for medical care

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill that allows waitlisted veterans to seek medical care outside of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in response to extremely long wait times at VA facilities.

The bill, sponsored by Committee on Veterans' Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in a 426-0 vote. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) recently reached a deal for similar legislation in the Senate. The Senate bill would give veterans the option to visit private doctors if they experience long wait times or live 40 miles or more from a VA facility. It would also fund the hiring of additional VA nurses and doctors, and create 26 new veterans' medical facilities.

Meanwhile, the VA scandal continues to grow. Although federal inspectors warned that patient waitlists had a negative impact on patient care, an investigation by Asbury Park Press found that the VA awarded executives and employees more than $100 million in bonuses over the last three years.

The largest of these bonuses went to Veterans Health Administration (VHA) executives, according to the article. The VHA came under fire for "systemic patient safety issues" in the Office of Inspector General's preliminary investigation. The fact that the VHA continued to reward employees while patients endured long wait times is "outrageous," said Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), according to the article.

"It hasn't been working and the more information that comes to light, the more outrageous it is. I know everyone has to be innocent until proven guilty, but I think criminal pursuit should take place here," LoBiondo said. "You can't have veterans die and just say it was mismanagement."

Philip Matkovsky, a top VA administrator, apologized for the department's misconduct and conceded there was "an integrity issue here among some of our leaders" in a House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing Monday evening, according to the Associated Press. "[The scandal] is irresponsible," Matkovsky said. "It is indefensible, and it is unacceptable. I apologize to our veterans, their families and their loved ones."

To learn more:
- here's the House bill status
- read about the proposed Senate bill
- here's the Asbury Park Press article
- check out the AP article