WASHINGTON – The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a $17 billion emergency spending bill on veterans’ health care to hire additional medical workers throughout the federal system that has been plagued by scandals.
The legislation passed on a 420-5 vote with rare bipartisan support from the Colorado delegation, and is expected to pass the Senate this week before Congress adjourns for the August recess.
The measure comes on the heels of investigations into 26 veteran health facilities nationwide including Colorado, where excessive delays in receiving health care has been linked to at least 40 deaths.
The legislation primarily allows veterans to bypass hospitals and clinics operated by the Veterans Affairs Department including the Fort Collins clinic to seek care at private facilities.
“The reform would allow veterans to vote with their feet if they received substandard treatment at a VA facility,” said Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman, a veteran of the Gulf and Iraq wars.
Rep. Cory Gardner said the measure provides needed checks and balances to ensure high quality health care.
“Our veterans have made immense sacrifices for our freedom, and they were promised access to the highest quality healthcare upon their return home,” the Colorado Republican said. “Unfortunately, the VA has come up short on that promise and too many veterans have gone without care.”
Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn sits on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and was one of the congressional negotiators who hammered out the agreement reached Monday.
Lamborn praised a provision in the bill that would give the VA secretary authority to fire or demote senior-level employees for poor performance or misconduct.
“I worked hard to ensure that the bill included measures that will hold veterans accountable for failing to put our veterans first,” Lamborn said.
The bill would add an estimated $10 billion over the next decade to the deficit, and was opposed by the conservative Heritage Action group, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation think tank.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, defended the expenditure and said, “It’s worth $10 billion to give veterans a choice.”