Capitol & State

Mitchell, Risch agree on new veterans health care bill

Democratic Senate candidate Nels Mitchell beat Idaho GOP Sen. Jim Risch to the punch on supporting a bill to improve health care for U.S. veterans, but Risch was in the majority in a 93-3 vote Wednesday to approve the compromise. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, also voted for the swiftly moving bill.

On Tuesday morning, Mitchell issued a news release titled, "Do the Right Thing, Jim," citing the bill introduced Monday by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

"I strongly urge my opponent to do everything he can to see that this bill passes," said Mitchell. "In the past, Risch has said one thing and voted the other way when it comes to supporting veterans."

Asked for comment Wednesday, Jason Risch, the senator's son and campaign manager, replied, "Sen. Risch is already doing better than simply voting for this legislation, he is a cosponsor."

When Mitchell issued his challenge to Risch on Tuesday, there were already 22 cosponsors for S. 2450, the Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014.

On Wednesday, Risch was among 22 senators to add his name to the list, which now stands at 44.

Mitchell's Tuesday morning news release and a joint release issued Wednesday evening from Risch and Crapo follow:

Mitchell:

DO THE RIGHT THING, JIM

Mitchell Urges Risch to Support Veterans Health Care Compromise

BOISE – Two of the Senate’s strongest backers of veterans have agreed on a bill to improve services for veterans and fix the troubled VA health care system. Today, Nels Mitchell, the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, urged incumbent Jim Risch to back the bipartisan compromise.

“Jim Risch turned his back on veterans in February” Mitchell said. “This time he should do the right thing and not just pay lip service to the needs of veterans.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, who chairs the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Sen. John McCain, a former POW and strong supporter of veterans, announced the compromise last Thursday.

The legislation would expand veterans’ access to health care while at the same time making it easier to fire VA officials for misconduct.

The bipartisan bill would build new VA facilities, hire additional doctors and nurses, and allow veterans to see certain private doctors if they experience long wait times or live more than 40 miles from a VA facility.

Mitchell said the private doctor option is particularly critical in rural states like Idaho. “Many Idaho veterans live a lot more than 40 miles from a VA facility,” he said. “This would give them a much-needed alternative.”

The bill would also provide in-state tuition benefits for spouses of troops killed in the line of duty, and increased access to health care for sexual assault victims. An independent commission would examine scheduling issues in more detail.

Mitchell said, “Money spent taking care of veterans is money well-spent. If we can afford to send Americans to war, we can surely afford to take proper care of them when they return home”

“I strongly urge my opponent to do everything he can to see that this bill passes. In the past, Risch has said one thing and voted the other way when it comes to supporting veterans. He needs to step up now.” The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America have given Risch a D grade on his veterans’ votes, while the Disabled American Veterans have given him a 0% rating, according to Project Vote Smart.

The compromise bill could come before the Senate as early as this week.

Crapo, Risch:

CRAPO, RISCH BACK NEW VETERANS CARE AGREEMENT

Bill allows veterans faced with long wait times to seek private care; cuts red tape within the agency

Washington, DC – Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch supported compromise legislation today that would end lengthy waits for veterans seeking medical care by hiring new staff and expanding veterans’ access to private medical care. The legislation, co-sponsored by both Crapo and Risch, also improves the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) accountability by allowing VA leadership to more easily fire underperforming employees. The U.S. Senate passed the bill by a 93—3 vote.

Congress has sought to improve wait times for veterans seeking care; however, recent reports of false appointment records and wait time cover-ups in Phoenix and other cities demonstrate that past reform efforts were not sufficient.

“When called upon to serve, our nation’s veterans bravely did so without hesitation or delay,” said Crapo. “In return, they should not be forced to wait inordinate amounts of time for medical treatment. In addition to establishing more permanent fixes to begin addressing the widespread failures within the agency, this measure is particularly beneficial to rural Idahoans, allowing veterans living more than 40 miles away from a VA facility to seek health services outside of the system.”

“America has a commitment to ensure our veterans have fair and equal access to the healthcare and benefits they have earned and justly deserve,” said Risch. “This legislation will provide veterans the choices and flexibility needed to guarantee that they receive the care they need, when they need it. It will also give the VA secretary the necessary authority to discipline or fire employees based on performance. We must never allow the VA to repeat the mismanagement that led to their failure to meet veterans’ needs.”

The legislation was introduced by Senators Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) and John McCain (R-Arizona).

S.2450, the Veteran’s Access to Care Through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014, does the following:

· Allows veterans to seek private treatment if faced with long wait times at VA facilities;

· Expands the VA secretary’s ability to terminate or demote employees for poor performance;

· Allows for the hiring of additional doctors and nurses;

· Establishes two independent commissions to review and monitor veterans’ access to care and VA construction projects;

· Extends counseling and treatment to service members who suffered sexual trauma while serving on inactive duty training;

· Requires VA to report on prevalence of domestic violence in the veteran population

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