On the Friday before Memorial Day, Senator Bernie Sanders, I-VT, chairman of the Senate committee on veterans affairs, introduced legislation to increase accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs and address the scandal that revealed veterans dying while they waited for care, and a cover-up by the Veterans Administration, which tried to hide huge waiting lists for tests and treatment.
The accountability measure Sanders has been working on with the White House would grant VA secretaries the power to remove senior executives based on poor job performance. Currently, the are dismissed almost exclusively on grounds of misconduct.
Sanders is also reintroducing comprehensive legislation blocked by Senate Republicans last winter to improve VA health care, education, job-training and other benefits.
“If you think it’s too expensive to take care of our veterans then don’t send them to war,” Sanders said during the exchange on the Senate floor with Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who objected to the bill's costs.
Sanders also announced hearings beginning on June 5 to address Veterans Administration accountability an adequate funding for vets.
“In recent years, as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 1.5 million more veterans have entered the VA health care system,” Sanders said. “Congress must do everything possible to make certain that the VA has the financial resources and administrative accountability to provide the high-quality health care and timely access to care that our veterans earned and deserve.”
Sanders is also seeking to restore a 1 percent cut in annual cost-of-living adjustments for military pensions.
The comprehensive bill he introduced is backed by the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
In February, the measure stalled after only two Republican senators voted with 54 Democrats and Sanders to advance the bill.
On Thursday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) objected to the $21 billion in costs associated with the bill, which prompted Sanders’ rebuke about the Republican philosophy that it is “too expensive” to take care of the men and women it sends to war. Sanders’ remark went viral.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was trying to get the Senate to vote without a hearing a bill the House passed last week, to speed up the firing process for VA employees.
Rubio attacked President Obama and Sanders for not supporting American vets.
Just before the floor debate, Sanders noted that he was honored by the Gold Star Wives—widows of veterans who died in combat. Sanders sponsored legislation last session to make it possible for those widows to get a college education under the post-9/11 GI Bill. He also proposed increasing support for the wives of disabled vets who care for their husbands at home.
“We have 70-year-old women, in most cases . . . They save the government money because those wounded veterans are staying home. They need some help,” Sanders said.
In February, Sen. Rubio was one of 47 Republicans who blocked the bill to improve veterans’ benefits.
The Washington Post, in an editorial last week, excoriated Rubio and his colleagues for treating vets “as so many pawns in election-year gamesmanship.”