Obama to Sign VA Reform Bill on Thursday

VA building

President Barack Obama on Thursday will head to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where he will sign a bill to overhaul the Veterans Affairs Department. Congress last week overwhelmingly approved the measure.

"This new legislation that passed Congress with strong bipartisan support will put in reforms and needed additional resources to meet the high standard of service our veterans have earned," White house spokesman Josh Earnest said during a press conference on Monday.

The conference committee bill sailed through the House by a vote of 420 to five and the Senate by a margin of 93 to three.

The $16.3 billion measure expands community healthcare options for veterans who face long wait times and commutes; funds the hiring of more doctors, nurses and other health-care workers; and improves accountability by making it easier for the agency secretary to fire executives.

The bill was the culmination of negotiations between Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida. The lawmakers, who chair the veterans' affairs committees in their respective chambers, co-chaired the conference committee.

Sanders' office said on Monday that he would be at Belvoir for the signing ceremony.

Miller's office said he will not be able to attend the signing because of other commitments. On Wednesday he will be holding a hearing in Roswell, New Mexico, on VA health care for rural veterans.

As Congress sought to finish up work last week before adjourning for August, the Senate confirmed Robert McDonald, a West Point graduate and former chief executive officer of consumer products giant Procter & Gamble Co. to be the next Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Earnest on Monday said the White House was pleased with McDonald's confirmation. "We're all looking forward to him bringing his expertise, pragmatism and integrity to the VA," he said.
 
McDonald took over the job from Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson, who was appointed to fill in after the June resignation of Eric Shinseki. Shinseki's resignation was fallout from the ongoing controversy and investigations into veterans who were placed on secret wait lists for medical treatment.

Some 35 veterans whose care was delayed at the VA Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, died before seeing a doctor, VA investigators concluded, confirming reports first made by whistleblowers to CNN.
Investigators also concluded that manipulation of data to conceal appointment backlogs is a systemic problem across the agency.

VA inspectors continue their investigations, which could result in criminal prosecution.

Department executives and other managers routinely received bonuses based in part on appointment figures they submitted to headquarters. If investigators conclude certain officials deliberately altered patient records, they'll face criminal charges.

An earlier version of this article reported that Rep. Miller's House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing  would be held in Washington, DC..

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@monster.com

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