VA Health Care Deal Clears Senate, Heads to President's Desk

The Senate overwhelmingly passed the agreement to address the Veterans Affairs health care crisis just a few hours before the August recess. The 91-3 vote sends the bill to the president for his signature. The only opponents were Republicans Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Bob Corker of Tennessee. "This is the beginning of the beginning of our effort to help those men and women who have defended our nation with honor and dignity. And we owe them that," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on the Senate floor Tuesday night. The measure survived Coburn's effort to block it over objections the legislation would add a projected $10 billion to the deficit over a decade. "The problem is not money at the VA. The problem is management, accountability and culture," Coburn said as he insisted on his budget point of order. Corker also issued a statement blasting the bill for adding to the deficit. He has been among its toughest critics. “It’s embarrassing that Congress not only refuses to face today’s decisions with the courage our men and women in uniform have demonstrated for decades, but rushed through a piece of legislation without thoroughly reviewing its full fiscal impact on future generations and without knowing if it will address the systemic problems that exist at the VA," Corker said. The Senate voted 86-8 to waive the budget point of order, ensuring the legislation's ultimate passage. Reports of long wait times at VA health care facilities and inadequate care have rocked Congress since May and lawmakers repeatedly emphasized that they must address the issue before leaving for recess. After talks between the House and Senate collapsed last week, each chamber’s Veterans Affairs' chairmen came together over the weekend to reach an agreement on a bill that would provide $17 billion in VA fixes. House Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Senate Chairman Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., introduced their compromise Monday. The bill allocates $10 billion to allow veterans to seek medical care outside a VA facility if they live more than 40 miles from a VA medical center or if they face long wait times at the nearest facility. The compromise also provides $5 billion to hire more doctors and nurses, allows the VA secretary to immediately remove senior officials, and authorizes 27 additional VA health care facilities. Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.   Related stories: Democrats Work to Mitigate VA Scandal as Political Issue Rob Nabors Cites 'Corrosive Culture' in VA Scandal GOP Congressman Helps Uncover Another VA Waiting List Scandal VA Conference Committee Hopes for Quick Deal Despite High Price Tag Veteran Voices, Influence Fade on the Hill Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.