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Senator plans bill to offer military veterans option on medical care

Veterans line up to check in for the Winterhaven Homeless Veterans Stand Down at the VA Medical Center in Washington
Veterans line up to check in for the Winterhaven Homeless Veterans Stand Down at the VA Medical Center in Washington

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders said on Sunday he will introduce legislation this week that would offer military veterans the option of private medical care, rather than endure long waits at facilities under the troubled Veterans Affairs Department.

"We are going to introduce legislation either tomorrow or Tuesday which addresses the short-term need to make sure that any veteran who is on a long waiting line will be able to get the care that he or she needs, either at a private facility or a community health center or Department of Defense base," Sanders, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said on CBS's "Face the Nation" program.

Eric Shinseki resigned on Friday as Veterans Affairs secretary, under fire for scheduling abuses to cover up long wait times for healthcare at VA facilities. In Phoenix, doctors have said some 40 veterans died while awaiting healthcare.

Republican Senator John McCain said on the show that veterans had lost confidence in the VA and that the agency's problems are systemic.

"This scandal qualifies for a Department of Justice investigation and it should have started some time ago," he said. "Clearly, there are serious allegations that laws were broken."

Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, had said last month that he would reintroduce a bill to expand veterans' benefits that had been blocked by the Senate's Republican minority in February.

He said on "Face the Nation" that the government also must take long-term action to ensure veterans are properly cared for in a timely manner.

(Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Jim Loney and Marguerita Choy)

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