Washington (CNN) – The Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved broad reforms to the Department of Veterans Affairs less than two weeks after a health care scandal led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
The vote was 93 to 3.
The unusually swift bipartisan passage spoke to the alarm lawmakers felt when reports revealed tens of thousands of veterans waited months for doctor appointments. The problems were worsened by agency employees who created false waiting lists to try to hide the crisis.
The bill makes it easier for the VA secretary to fire executive employees, creates 26 new VA medical facilities around the country, and authorizes $500 million for the hiring of new doctors and nurses. It allows veterans waiting for care to go to private physicians and send their bills to the VA, among other provisions.
The legislation needs to be melded with similar House measures, a process which is also expected to happen quickly.
To ensure swift passage, Republicans set aside their concerns that the spending in the bill breaks budget caps. Many GOP senators argued the VA crisis is so dire it deserves to be treated as an emergency and therefore the costs don’t not need to be offset with spending cuts elsewhere.