WASHINGTON — Congress is moving with what one senator called “lightning speed” to help thousands of military veterans enduring long wait times for VA medical care.
The Senate was poised to vote by Thursday on a measure making it easier for veterans who have encountered delays getting initial visits to receive VA-paid treatment from local doctors instead. The measure closely resembles a bill approved unanimously Tuesday in the House, prompting optimism among lawmakers from both parties that a compromise version could be on its way soon to President Barack Obama for his signature.
“Maybe we can show the United States of America that people can come together on a very, very important issue and do it in rapid fashion,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
The legislative effort comes as a federal law enforcement official said the Justice Department has formally asked the FBI to review materials provided by the Veterans Affairs inspector general.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss an ongoing criminal investigation on the record.
Richard Griffin, the VA’s acting inspector general, issued a scathing report that confirmed allegations of excessive waiting time at VA hospitals and inappropriate scheduling practices. The report, which followed allegations that 40 patients died while awaiting care at a Phoenix hospital where employees kept a secret waiting list to cover up delays, found that 1,700 veterans seeking treatment at the Phoenix facility were at risk of being “forgotten or lost.”
While the Justice Department has not undertaken a full-fledged investigation, the request for FBI involvement represents an escalation into concerns of possible criminal conduct by VA employees. FBI Director James Comey had previously said that the FBI had not been asked to participate in any investigation. But the law enforcement official said Wednesday the situation has now changed.