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June 11, 2014

Congress moving to ensure speedier care for veterans

WASHINGTON — Congress is suddenly moving quickly to address military veterans’ long waits for care at VA hospitals.

The House unanimously approved legislation Tuesday to make it easier for patients enduring lengthy delays for initial visits to get VA-paid treatment from local doctors instead. The Senate was poised to vote on a similar bill within 48 hours, Democratic leader Harry Reid said.

The legislation comes close on the heels of a Veterans Affairs Department audit showing that more than 57,000 new applicants for care have had to wait at least three months for initial appointments and an additional 64,000 newly enrolled vets who requested appointments never got them.

“I cannot state it strongly enough — this is a national disgrace,” said Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chief author of the House legislation.

Miller made his comments minutes before the House completed the first of two votes on its measure. Lawmakers approved the bill 421-0, then revoted a little over an hour later, with five more in favor and no one against.

Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine, top Democrat on the Veteran Affairs Committee, said the care that veterans receive at VA facilities is “second to none — that is, if you can get in.”

The House bill and a similar version in the Senate would spend hundreds of millions of dollars to hire more doctors and nurses, but there’s a nationwide shortage of primary care physicians.

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