Montel Williams, who has been advocating for a "VA surge" to clear the backlog of veterans needing healthcare, is skeptical of the bipartisan, bicameral deal announced
Monday to fix the problem.
Williams announced in a Facebook post
that he would not take a position on the bill until he had a chance to read it. Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Republican Florida Rep. Jeff Miller, chairmen of their respective Veterans Affairs committees, hammered out the $17 billion bill over the weekend after weeks of negotiations.
Among other things, the agreement includes $10 billion in emergency spending to get outside doctors to see veterans who have waited for care, $5 billion to hire more doctors, nurses and other medical staff, and $1.5 billion to lease 27 new clinics.
Congress goes into its annual monthlong August recess at the end of this week, and Williams says there won't be time for House and Senate members to read the bill before voting on it.
"We also have significant doubts on a functional level that anything can pass before recess in the absence of a CBO score. We would be delighted to be wrong," Williams' spokesman Jonathan Franks said in the post.
Franks said that there might well be positives in the bill, but that Williams questions the wisdom of "throwing money at a problem we haven't defined."
Williams continues to fight for a "VA surge," Franks said. Williams has been pushing his plan on Twitter with the hashtag #vasurge.
Williams' plan calls on President Barack Obama to order a 90-day surge to clear the backlog. He told Fox News Channel's Neil Cavuto
in late May that recently discharged corpsmen from each branch of service could be reactivated to help with the surge. Some veterans also could be sent to private doctors at VA expense, he said.
To avoid criticism that the president might be acting unconstitutionally, Williams also wants Congress to pass an authorization for Obama to act, though he says he doesn't think such action by the president would constitute executive overreach.
"Mr. Williams certainly welcomes government finally taking some action," Franks said. "He hopes the Congress will not break veterans' hearts with another missed deadline. It is fundamentally offensive for those who voted to fund a war on debt to now become bean counters when it comes time to pay the bills to care for those whom they sent to war or to call programs for veterans 'entitlements' in the pejorative sense of the word."
Before becoming a TV talk show host and media personality, Williams spent 22 years in the Marines and Navy. He retired as a lieutenant commander.
Williams has been critical of both Obama and Republicans, saying his opinions are not political but intended to help veterans.
A talk he made after a Myrtle Beach, S.C., Memorial Day parade marked the beginning of his public battle against the scandal that has uncovered multiple VA hospitals covering up weeks- and months-long wait times for veterans. Some veterans have died before seeing a doctor.
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