The Senate has approved a bill making it easier for veterans who've endured long wait times for VA medical care to receive treatment from local doctors instead. The measure closely resembles a bill approved Tuesday in the House.

Lawmakers say they are optimistic a compromise version can soon be sent to President Barack Obama for his signature.


The Senate bill, approved 93-3, would authorize about $35 billion over three years to pay for the outside care, hire hundreds of doctors and nurses and lease 26 new health facilities in 17 states and Puerto Rico.

Three senators voted against the bill: Sen Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Sen. Tim Johnson, R-Wis.


The Veterans Affairs Department released an audit this week showing that more than 57,000 veterans have had to wait at least three months for initial appointments. Some vets who asked for appointments never got them.

Nevada Senator Dean Heller is calling for the resignation of the director of the Reno VA office after it came to light that this branch of the VA is rated as the worst in the country. We spoke with him on Wednesday, and he said that Reno's office actually isn't new information. He says he visited the office about a year and a half ago to find out what the problem was, and was told they were on top of it.

Now he says he's fed up with the lack of improvement, so he's calling for a change in leadership. "What I read and what I saw and frankly, from my appearances in that particular office, I'm not happy with the way it's being run...It's the worst-run office in the country right now, and it has been for some time."

Heller says it takes more than 355 days to process applications in the Reno office - compared to the national goal of 120 days. He admits there are a lot of veterans to worry about - 300,000 just in Nevada. But he says that's no excuse.

"We get these solutions in there, we have management changes in that office, and I think we can turn this regional office around so that it actually serves the veterans the way it needs to be done."

We reached out to the VA for their response to this. They released a statement, saying in part quote: "We agree that no veteran should have to wait to receive benefits that have been earned and deserved. That's unacceptable, which is why VA has implemented...a robust plan to automate the process and end the number of disability claims pending more than 125 days by the end of 2015. We still have more work to do but we've made strong progress."

They did not comment, however, on Heller's call for resignations.

Nevada Senator Harry Reid made the following statement today after the Senate passed bipartisan legislation addressing hospital wait times and improving accountability at the Veterans Affairs administration:


“Today, the Senate acted to ensure that our nation’s veterans receive the care they deserve. This bipartisan legislation starts the process of fixing the VA by holding officials manipulating the system accountable, expanding access to quality health care, and giving the VA the authority to hire more doctors and nurses to decrease wait times.

“This week, I’ve been greatly concerned by the results of an audit showing the VA is not serving the needs of Nevada’s veterans. I hope the legislation we passed today will help the VA facilities in Nevada get back on track. Chairman Sanders and Senator McCain worked extremely hard to come to an agreement on this legislation and I thank them for their work on it. In the Senate, we will continue to investigate and address other longstanding issues in the VA.”