A broad Veterans Affairs bill that would have expanded benefits for former service members and repealed a military pension cut for future troops stalled out in the Senate on Thursday.
The measure, sponsored by Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), collapsed after failing to garner enough Republican votes to waive the VA spending cap established in a budget deal Congress and President Obama approved in December. Sanders’s office estimated that the VA legislation would have cost $20 billion over 10 years.
Veterans groups expressed frustration with the bill’s failure Thursday, saying it fell victim to continued partisan politics in Congress. The measure was four votes shy of a 60-vote threshold for advancing.
“I don’t know how anyone who voted ‘no’ today can look a veteran in the eye and justify that vote,” said American Legion national commander Daniel M. Dellinger. “Our veterans deserve more than what they got today.”
Similarly, Paralyzed Veterans of America president Bill Lawson said in a statement: “We are deeply disappointed that the Senate could not set aside its differences to support the men and women who have already sacrificed so much for this country.”
Aside from the costs, Republicans were also concerned that the bill would dump more veterans into a system already struggling with a backlog of disability claims and long wait times at VA health clinics. The legislation would have expanded VA health-system eligibility to veterans who don’t have service disabilities.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), ranking member of the veterans committee, said this week on the Senate floor that the bill did not provide the resources needed for the program expansions to happen without more frustration and delays for veterans who are already in the network.
“We have veterans dying from long waits for basic, necessary tests like colonoscopies,” Burr said Thursday. “Veterans waiting for their disability claims to be processed know all about frustrations and delays at the VA, and adding more individuals to an already broken system doesn’t seem wise.”
Sanders on Thursday promised to continue pressing for enhanced veterans benefits. “I am proud that we received every Democratic vote and that two Republicans also voted with us,” he said in a statement. “In the coming weeks, I will be working hard to secure three additional Republican votes, and I think we can do that.”
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