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US Congress adopts veteran healthcare reform

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R) and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders announce a deal to reform the Veterans Affairs Department at the U.S. Capitol July 28, 2014 in Washington, DC
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R) and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders announce a deal to reform the Veterans Affairs Department at the U.S. Capitol July 28, 2014 in Washington, DC

The US Senate Thursday adopted a law reforming health care for millions of veterans, following a string of crises over overcrowding and delays at military health facilities.

The bill, which was ushered through the chamber in a 91-3 vote just ahead of summer recess, aims to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs and reform veteran care.

It next heads to President Barack Obama's desk.

A cover-up about delayed health care for veterans led to the resignation of former VA secretary Eric Shinseki in May.

His exit followed an inspector general finding that 1,700 veterans in the Phoenix area alone had been kept off the main waiting list for primary care. Up to 40 patients are said to have died while waiting for treatment.

An internal review concluded that delays and other management failures in care were systemic and nationwide.

"This bill keeps our commitment to the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our country," said Senator Bernie Sanders, who co-crafted the bill.

"It makes certain that we address the immediate crisis of veterans being forced onto long waiting lists for health care," he said.

The reforms would increase the US deficit by $10 billion over 10 years, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.

The bill authorizes the hiring of new doctors and medical personnel, and allows authorities to rent additional buildings to house medical facilities.

It also permits veterans who are forced to wait extended periods of time for care or who live more than 40 miles (64 kilometers) from a military medical center to receive treatment from a private doctor and be reimbursed.

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