Editorial: Every hour counts in solving VA crisis

Published Jun 7, 2014 at 12:01AM

Finally, there’s action that may break congressional gridlock and right a grievous wrong.

A deal announced Thursday seeks to provide medical care to veterans who have been victimized by a dysfunctional and dishonest Department of Veterans Affairs. It was brokered by political polar opposites in the U.S. Senate: Vermont independent Bernie Sanders and Arizona Republican John McCain.

Despite numerous details to be resolved, both within the Senate and between the House and Senate, optimism abounds that the Sanders-McCain deal can lead to meaningful change quickly.

Speedy and effective reforms are the only acceptable response to the outrage of recent revelations about long and hidden wait lists of veterans seeking medical care, including some reports of deaths among those waiting.

The Senate deal would allow veterans on long waiting lists, or those who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility, to get care from private or other government doctors. It would authorize opening 26 new VA centers and provide $500 million to hire more doctors and nurses. And it would make it easier to fire VA officials.

Previous efforts at VA reform have suffered from the all-too-common ills of congressional dysfunction, including political posturing and filibusters. The current deal includes other provisions, such as expanded tuition assistance, GI benefits for spouses of troops killed in action, and more help for sexual assault victims. There will surely be legitimate disagreements on details and procedures and costs.

The hope is that the overwhelming disgust about recent revelations will allow lawmakers to put aside political gamesmanship and find swift compromise to address the most immediate crisis: getting medical care for the thousands on waiting lists.

Every hour counts.