House overwhelmingly approves VA overhaul

Washington – The House of Representatives Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a $17 billion bill aimed at coming to the aid of the scandal-plagued Department of Veterans Affairs.

All five Connecticut House members joined the majority as the bill was approved on a vote of 420 to 5.

It includes $10 billion in emergency spending to help veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with VA doctors to obtain outside care; $5 billion to hire doctors, nurses and other medical staff; and about $1.5 billion to lease 27 new clinics across the country, including $4.9 million for the Errera Community Care Center in West Haven.

The legislation is a response to allegations of wrongdoing at the VA that include hiding long wait times for care at certain facilities.

“This legislation places an important down payment toward fulfilling our nation’s obligations to our veteran,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.

The bill would also give new VA Secretary Robert McDonald, confirmed by the Senate yesterday, expanded authority to fire or demote senior VA officers for poor performance and misconduct. It would also cap the amount of bonuses the VA may pay each year, and requires the VA to establish penalties for employees who knowingly submit false appointment wait-time data.

The Senate is expected to approve the bill before the end of the week.

Like Courtney, Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, lauded bipartisan support for the bill.

But Larson, and all of the members of Connecticut’s delegation to the House of Representatives – all Democrats – took a shot at House Republicans Wednesday, blaming them for a heap of unfinished business as Congress prepares to take its August break.

They suggested to House Speaker John Boehner that he should stop spending time on a resolution that would allow House Republicans to sue President Obama and stay in session to complete must-pass legislation.

“Congress should work together through August and stay in session until we address a number of other issues, including our transportation infrastructure, comprehensive immigration reform, pay equity, affordability of higher education, unemployment benefits and more impacting the American people,” Larson said.

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