Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed Democrat Harry Reid on Tuesday, accusing the majority leader of playing election-year politics with bipartisan legislation seeking to aid retired servicemembers caught up in the Veterans Affairs scandal.
"There's no reason for the majority leader to prioritize partisan bills aimed at boosting Democrat turnout in November over bipartisan legislation aimed at fixing the problems at the VA," McConnell said on the Senate floor. "Veterans have been made to wait long enough at these hospitals.
"Congress shouldn't keep them in the waiting room by putting partisan games ahead of solutions," the Kentucky Republican added. "Fixing this problem is where the Senate's focus should be right now."
McConnell charged Reid with delaying action on a bill introduced Monday by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. The legislation would allow veterans who experience long wait times or live more than 40 miles from a Veterans Affairs medical facility to go outside the VA system to see the doctor of their choice.
The bill also would provide $500 million to hire new VA doctors and nurses to help speed up veterans' access to care.
In addition, the VA secretary could immediately fire VA executives accountable for the long delays many veterans have faced, but would also allow anyone fired to appeal within seven days.
The appeal would then be decided within 21 days, according to the bill.
The VA scandal has led to the confirmed deaths of 18 veterans — and as many as 40 — while waiting for care at the Phoenix Veteran's Administration Health Care Center and the resignation of Secretary Eric Shinseki.
The agency said on Monday that as many as 100,000 veterans have experienced long waits for healthcare appointments at VA facilities nationwide and that more than three-quarters of locations had misreported waiting times.
In an internal audit, the agency said 57,436 new veteran patients had been waiting 90 days or more for an appointment. The agency said it was abandoning a two-week scheduling goal after finding that it was "not attainable."
The audit examined
731 VA hospitals and large outpatient clinics.
Reid, who represents Nevada, has not scheduled a vote on the bill.
"This is the issue that deserves the Senate's immediate attention," McConnell said.
"And if our colleagues are serious about getting to the bottom of this scandal, holding the perpetrators accountable, and enacting the reforms needed to fix it, then they'll actually focus on helping our veterans — instead of worrying about saving their own seats in November."
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