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In Wake of VA Scandal, McCain Proposes Private Health Option for Veterans

McCain is planning a bill that would let veterans bypass the VA for health care. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
McCain is planning a bill that would let veterans bypass the VA for health care. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. John McCain accused President Barack Obama of attempting “damage control” Wednesday when he made a statement about the a scandal at the VA involving allegations of manipulated wait time reports.  

The comments by the Arizona Republican, whose home state has been at the epicenter of the controversy, came along with an announcement about new legislation designed to permit veterans greater freedom to seek treatment away from facilities run by the Department of Veterans Affairs.  

“What did the president say today? Not much. Three weeks after … this scandal broke, the allegations of the most serious kind, that 40 people died unnecessarily because of malpractice or whatever you want to call it at the VA hospital [in Phoenix]. And now, allegations coming in from all over the country. There are 26 different VA hospitals where charges have been made,” McCain told a radio station back in Arizona. “What is the president doing? He’s sending down one of his political operatives to Phoenix, when he should be sending veterans’ service organizations people, key veterans and people with military as well as VA experience.”  

McCain said that three GOP senators are drafting legislation to allow veterans to access health care services outside the traditional VA system. The move comes amid increasing the ongoing criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of the VA scandal in Phoenix and elsewhere. “It seems that, to me, that he’s just engaged in damage control rather than really trying to get at the root of the problem,” McCain said of Obama.  

McCain told KYFI radio in Phoenix that he was working to develop the bill with a pair of fellow Republicans: Senate Veterans’ Affairs ranking member Richard M. Burr and Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.  

“In the long term … let’s let our veterans choose the health care that they need and want the most and not have to be bound to just going to the VA. The VA is great on traumatic brain injury, PTSD, war wounds, prosthesis and all that, but other than that why wouldn’t a veteran who has served his country honorably be able, that lives away from Phoenix, maybe hours away, not be able to go to the health care provider of his or her choice,” McCain said.  

“Sen. Coburn, Sen. Burr and I will be introducing a comprehensive bill,” he said. “Time is not, obviously, not on our side, nor on the side of the literally the lives of the men and women who have served. … I would give it a crash program.”  

While details are not yet available, McCain said to expect introduction of the legislation after the Senate returns from its weeklong Memorial Day recess, adding that a lack of urgency on Capitol Hill could put some of the blame on the legislative branch going forward. It is not clear when veterans’ issues will next make the Senate schedule , though the appropriations bill that funds VA programs is moving along.  

“Unless we do something, then the onus is, is on us in Congress,” McCain said. “After we fix it, let’s hold the people responsible who caused this problem.”  

He said the White House would play a key rule in moving quickly, however.  

“We’ve got to get agreement from the president. Did you see one concrete proposal that the president had today? Not a one,” McCain said. “I didn’t hear one.”  

Obama spoke to reporters in the White House briefing room earlier Wednesday, demanding improvements from VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and vowing to fix problems at the VA.