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Vermont Veterans Will Benefit From Sanders VA Reform Bill

Angela Evancie
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a press conference in Burlington in April. Sanders has sponsored bill that calls for 26 new VA medical facilities in 18 states, and it authorizes the hiring of additional doctors and nurses.

Veterans in the more rural parts of Vermont will be able to receive health care services closer to home under a bill sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders.

"It deals with the immediate crisis that we do not want veterans waiting long periods of time to get the health care that they need." - Sen. Bernie Sanders on the major goal of his new bill

Sanders says there’s a very good chance that the Senate will pass his bill this week because he’s been able to build strong bi-partisan support for the measure.

As the chairman of the Senate Veterans committee, Sanders has been directly involved in efforts to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system.

This is happening because it was disclosed that a number of VA centers covered up the waiting times for thousands of veterans. In some cases, the veterans died before they were able to receive care.

The bill calls for the construction of 26 new VA medical facilities in 18 states, and it authorizes the hiring of additional doctors and nurses. The legislation has a $2 billion price tag.

Sanders says the plan is a short term solution to the VA crisis.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Sanders said. “It deals with the immediate crisis that we don’t want veterans waiting long periods of time to get the health care that they need.”

The legislation also allows veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility to get their medical services from a local health care provider. This new approach will be evaluated after a two year period. Sanders says he’s willing to try it out.

“We don’t want veterans having to travel long distances to get to a facility,” said Sanders. “On the other hand, carried out in a way that some people would want it to be carried out could eventually lead to the privatization of the VA which is something I strongly oppose.”

The bill also creates a streamlined process for the VA Secretary to dismiss certain employees. Sanders says the provision also includes an expedited appeals process.

“There are clearly some employees who were lying, who were doctoring books, and they should be fired immediately, and this bill allows the secretary to do that,” said Sanders. “And also allows the secretary to fire incompetent employees in a much more expedited manner than was previously the case.”

Richard Reed is the head of the Vermont Office of Veterans Affairs. He says the provision that allows veterans to see private health care providers if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility will definitely help veterans in the more rural parts of the state.

“I think that 40 miles is a good rule of thumb; that’s what we use in the office of Veterans Affairs in terms of doing outreach to veterans who need assistance with claims,” said Reed. “The VA has five clinics established throughout Vermont which will cover most of the population, but there are still gaps in that service.”

Reed says he believes most Vermont veterans are getting timely health care services from the VA and that many are satisfied with the quality of care that they’re receiving.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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