WHITE RIVER JUNCTION - Sen. Bernie Sanders didn't get everything he wanted in the recent Veterans Administration reform bill, but at a news conference Wednesday he called it "the most significant piece of VA legislation we've seen in many, many years."
Seated alone at a table at the White River Junction VA hospital, Sanders, I-Vt., discussed the bipartisan bill he helped craft, which easily passed a usually divided Congress last week. President. Barack Obama signed the bill into law Thursday.
The new legislation allocates nearly $17 billion over three years to improve care and decrease wait times for military veterans around the nation.
"What we want to do is within a couple of years, make sure that every veteran that comes into the VA health care system is getting not only quality care, but they are getting timely care," Sanders said. "If there is anything this country must stand for, it is caring for the men and women who have sacrificed so much, and I intend to do everything I can to make that happen."
If he'd had it his way, Sanders said he would have allocated more money for the hiring of nurses and doctors, and added dental care to the list of benefits veterans receive, among other changes.
"It is compromise legislation that I would not have written if I had the option of writing it alone," he said. "But that's what compromise is about.
The VA sees 6.5 million veterans a year, a number up 1.5 million from four years ago. More military personnel from recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an aging veteran population, have increased the strain on the VA system, Sanders said.
"The cost of war is much deeper, much more significant, than most people understand," Sanders said.