Las Vegas Sun

December 18, 2014

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Titus and Congress get VA bill to Obama’s desk

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Sam Morris

The new Veterans Affairs Medical Center in North Las Vegas is seen Feb. 21, 2012.

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Congresswoman Dina Titus

Big changes are coming to the Veterans Affairs Department. Some of them thanks to U.S. Rep. Dina Titus.

After whistleblowers and audits revealed that federal officials covered up deaths and left more than 100,000 veterans waiting for treatment, Titus, a Nevada Democrat, sponsored three bills that were part of an omnibus overhaul package pieced together by Congress in the two months since the scandal first erupted.

President Barack Obama will sign the reforms Thursday.

The bill channels an extra $16.3 billion to the VA over three years to repair a number of the flaws in a health care system strained by more than a decade of troops fighting in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The backbone of the law aims to reduce wait times and expand the network of coverage available to veterans.

The bill — the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act — will allow the backlog of veterans who were waiting for care to access treatment at private hospitals if the VA can’t see a patient within 30 days or if the veteran lives 40 miles from a VA facility.

“We don’t want this to be a Band-Aid,” Titus said. “We want it to be a serious fix.”

Titus’ legislation aims at fixing endemic problems in Nevada and across the country. One portion will add more medical residency positions to local hospitals. Two others will provide more counseling and treatment to members of the National Guard and scholarships to spouses of veterans.

Getting the president’s signature on the bill was no easy task. Titus spent long hours working across the aisle to finish the deal before Congress embarks on a five-week summer recess. Congressional lawmakers put politics aside to finish the bill, Titus said.

“Two months to get this done is pretty rapid,” she said.

Sun reporter Amber Phillips contributed to this story.

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