US & Canada

US senators agree veterans health package

John McCain with reporters
John McCain introduced the bill on Tuesday and announced the deal two days later

Senior US senators have agreed a package of measures aimed at addressing the problems that have engulfed the healthcare system provided to veterans.

The bill would allow former soldiers enduring long waits for care to seek medical help from private providers and government healthcare programmes.

A similar bill passed the House and the US Senate will now debate the package.

Meanwhile, the man tapped by the White House to be the agency's top health official has withdrawn his nomination.

Jeffrey Murawsky, health care chief for the Veterans Administration's (VA) Chicago regional office, feared a lengthy confirmation process, the White House said in a statement.

Eric Shinseki last week resigned as Veterans Affairs chief after a damning investigation uncovered "systemic" problems in delivering care to veterans across the country.

Republican Senator John McCain and liberal Independent Senator Bernie Sanders announced the new $2bn (£1.2bn) bill on Thursday, and urged the Senate to give it passage.

There was no immediate schedule for a vote, but Mr McCain said he hoped it could be introduced by early next week.

The bill gives the VA secretary expanded powers to fire senior regional executives and it would spend $500m on more doctors and nurses.

Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said the agency is was working to regain trust

It comes after a national uproar over allegations in April that as many as 40 veterans may have died while waiting an average 115 days for appointments at the Phoenix VA hospital or its walk-in clinics.

Since then, investigators have found long wait times and falsified records at other VA facilities nationwide.

"Right now we have a crisis on our hands and it's imperative that we deal with that crisis," said Mr Sanders.

On Thursday, Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said at least 18 Arizona veterans died while waiting for doctor appointments, although it remains unclear whether the wait was to blame for their deaths.

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