This Is How Bad Things Have to Get Before Congress Will Actually Do Something

Break out the ticker tape and start planning parade routes — Congress is doing something!

The Senate approved a bill to help veterans victimized by long wait times and unsavory practices at the Department of Veterans Affairs get medical help elsewhere. The proposal would lease 26 health facilities and hire hundreds of doctors and nurses across 17 states and Puerto Rico to the tune of about $35 billion over three years.

The bill met bipartisan support, passing 93-3. A House bill to ban bonuses for VA employees through 2016 did even better, passing unanimously.

The background: It's really a testament to the VA scandal — and the difficulties faced by veterans — that Congress was able to come together and pass legislation. The scandal in its current form broke earlier this year, after reports from CNN and the Arizona Republic revealed that veterans waited months for medical care, while some facilities kept secret lists to hide how long the wait times were.


Image Credit: American Legion via Vox

A VA investigation determined that 35 veterans died during their waits and that health system supervisors retaliated against employees who complained about the practices. There are now more than 40 VA systems under investigation.

While the scandal may have risen to prominence over the past few months, the practices are nothing new. Audits in 2005 and 2007 found that some facilities were using paper lists instead of electronic ones to hide their wait times, while a 2010 memo revealed ways VA schedulers were gaming the system.

A big step: It's at least a tiny bit heartening that lawmakers can put their differences aside and find funding to stop thousands of veterans from unfairly waiting for medical care. Last year, Congress was the most unproductive it has been in all of American history, passing only one law a week (and many of those were relatively inconsequential).

That's worse than 1948's "Do Nothing Congress," which was famous for, well, you know.

So the good news is that Congress can overcome its differences to keep veterans from dying of mismanaged health care. The bad news is that it takes veterans dying from mismanaged health care to get Congress to overcome its differences.

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Matt Connolly

Matt has written for Mother Jones, the Washington Examiner and Chicago Public Radio among many others. He's a resident of Washington, D.C., but much like Bruce Springsteen and pork roll he is a product of New Jersey.

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