The discussions sparked optimism that Republicans and Democrats
can quickly strike a deal for a bill that would ensure immediate
care for veterans and give the Obama administration greater
authority to fire employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Aides to Senate Democrats said a vote on a compromise measure could
come as early as Thursday.
Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who chairs the chamber's
Veterans Affairs Committee, met with Republican Senator John McCain
and Representative Jeff Miller to try to work out differences
between competing proposals to fix widespread problems in the VA's
health care system.
Veterans groups had expressed concern that Sanders's ambitions for a
comprehensive package of VA reforms would get bogged down in
election-year partisan politics, but the groups were encouraged by
the lawmakers' shift in focus toward smaller, targeted bills.
"They're going to be forced to start to work together. It's
certainly a very positive step," said Louis Celli, legislative
director for the American Legion.
The flurry of activity comes less than a week after VA Secretary
Eric Shinseki resigned amid the scandal over widespread schemes to
mask the care delays and protect staff bonus awards and salary
In Phoenix, where cover-up schemes first surfaced, doctors said that
40 veterans had died while waiting for care.
Acting VA secretary Sloan Gibson will visit Phoenix VA facilities on
Thursday and told veterans groups that officials have now reached
out to 1,700 veterans waiting for care appointments, the VA said.
More details of problems elsewhere surfaced on Wednesday as Kansas
Senator Pat Roberts released a VA document showing 108 veterans
faced care delays at some facilities in Kansas, Missouri, Indiana
House Speaker John Boehner sought to keep the pressure on President
Barack Obama for VA changes, asking him in a letter to urge Senate
Democrats to pass Republican reform bills.
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The White House is considering Toby Cosgrove, head of the
prestigious Cleveland Clinic, as a possible candidate to run the VA,
according to a person familiar with the matter.
Miller, who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said he
believes that Sanders is open to moving some VA reforms more quickly
"The hope is that some type of a compromise can be reached that can
pass the Senate and quickly pass the House," he told reporters after
But key differences remain. A House-passed measure sponsored by
Miller provides the VA secretary authority to fire employees or
demote them at will for poor performance, while Sanders wants to
maintain some employment safeguards.
A plan from Arizona's McCain would give veterans a new "choice card"
option that would allow them to seek private care, while Sanders
wants to keep VA care in-house as much as possible. Some lawmakers
also want a provision authorizing leases to open 27 delayed VA
(Additional reporting by Emily Stephenson; Writing by David Lawder;
Editing by Caren Bohan and Ken Wills)
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