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Lawmakers Diverge On How To Fix Backlogged Veterans Affairs Department

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Both sides of the aisle agree that the VA is failing veterans, but groups disagree on how to address the problem.
Jason Kuffer: https://www.flickr.com/photos/digiart2001/3387341859
Both sides of the aisle agree that the VA is failing veterans, but groups disagree on how to address the problem.

As the embattled head of the Veterans Affairs department testified in the Senate today, lawmakers also explored reforming how veterans receive care.

There's bipartisan agreement here at the Capitol that the VA is failing many of the nation's veterans. Reports that dozens of veterans died while waiting for care at a Phoenix VA hospital has caused anger among lawmakers of all stripes, but there isn't agreement yet on how to unclog the system that's leaving hundreds of thousands of veterans' claims sitting untouched for weeks and even months.

Some lawmakers are calling for a criminal probe, while others say the VA needs a larger staff. Dan Dellinger of Vienna, Virginia—national commander of the American Legion, which has called for the head of the VA to resign—says his group is open to allowing veterans to access private hospitals while the VA attempts to process the hundreds of thousands of backlogged claims. But he says that could be more costly.

"We wouldn't be opposed to that, because we want the best healthcare as fast as possible, but we also have to put a caveat on that—that it can't happen exceedingly because then there goes the entire budget, which is fee-based, which is going to be higher in the private sector versus the ability in the VA."

General Eric Shinseki, the head of the VA, told lawmakers he plans to hold employees responsible for the persistent problems at the agency, but he says he's still awaiting an inspector general's report on the Phoenix hospital at the center of this latest firestorm.

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