President Obama signs veterans health bill. / SAUL LOEB, AFP/Getty Images
FORT BELVOIR, Va. - New legislation should improve medical care for America's veterans, and shorten the time in which they receive it, President Obama said Thursday.
"This bill will help us ensure that veterans have access to the care they have earned," Obama said as he signed the Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014.
The $16.3 billion plan enables the VA to hire more doctors and nurses at nearly 1,000 hospitals and other medical facilities across the country. It also makes it easier to dismiss poorly performing VA officials, and protects the rights of whistle blowers who point out the system's shortcomings.
The legislation arose after reports of long wait times and sub-standard care at VA hospitals, and efforts by officials to cover up the problems.
The job of improving veterans' health care does not end with a bill signing, Obama said.
"Implementing this law will take time," Obama said, and making sure it works will require "focus from all of us."
Congress passed the legislation with bipartisan votes, though some Republicans criticized the president's handling of the VA issue.
"Initially, the Obama administration was slow to respond to the crisis, but pressure from Republicans and revulsion from the American people forced the White House to take this crisis seriously," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
McConnell said health care for military service members is "a priority deserving of bipartisan attention, and this legislation will help ensure the VA lives up to the promises that we made to our veterans."
For his part, Obama protested the delay in Senate confirmation of some of his nominees to the Department of Veterans Affairs, saying that "the Senate doesn't seem to move very fast."
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, said a "dysfunctional Congress" managed to accomplish "something significant" for veterans.
"This legislation will go a long way toward ending unacceptably long waiting times for veterans to access health care and allow the VA the resources to hire the doctors, nurses and other medical staff it needs to address these problems over the long term," Sanders said.
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