Our do-nothing Congress has a chance to get something vital accomplished before going on yet another vacation. At last, a bipartisan deal emerged Monday to start fixing the scandalous health-care system for veterans.
The agreement includes $10 billion in emergency funding to make it easier for veterans to get outside treatment, $5 billion to hire more VA doctors and nurses and $1.5 billion to lease 27 new clinics.
California, home to more veterans than any other state, has a huge stake in this deal getting done. While wait times to get care are not the worst here, they still are too long.
The bill requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to pay private doctors to treat veterans who can't get prompt appointments at one of its nearly 1,000 hospitals and outpatient clinics. An audit released this month found that about 46,000 new patients have had to wait at least three months for their initial appointments. After more than six weeks of negotiations, the chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees announced the agreement, which also gives the VA secretary more power to fire incompetent senior executives and expands education benefits for veterans.
Only veterans enrolled with the VA as of Aug. 1 or who live at least 40 miles from the nearest VA facility would be eligible to get outside care.
While the bill is costly, it is necessary.
Democrats and Republicans say that shoring up the VA is a top priority before leaving town at the end of this week for a monthlong recess. Given their track record this year, some skepticism is in order.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America says the measure is long overdue after "a summer of disappointment and betrayal." It also is calling on President Barack Obama to focus on the bill, which a spokesman said Monday he welcomes.
Yes, the money is needed, but there must be a culture change at the VA as well — as clearly demonstrated by officials falsifying records to cover up the long wait times. The Senate is also to vote this week whether to confirm former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as VA secretary. His chances of success would be much better if this health-care fix is well underway when he takes office.