WASHINGTON, June 10 (UPI) -- The House unanimously passed a bill Tuesday to allow veterans to seek healthcare outside the VA if they're forced to wait excessive periods of time for an appointment.
Members voted 426-0 to approve a measure from Armed Services Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., that would allow veterans to seek medical care at an outside provider if they are forced to wait more than 30 days for an appointment or live more than 40 miles from a VA center.
The bill, which sunsets after two years, would also freeze bonuses for all VA employees and allows unused bonus funds to be used elsewhere within the department.
"With more than 57,000 veterans waiting for care, the VA crisis is nothing short of a national emergency and requires immediate action from both the House and Senate," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in a statement.
"There can be no doubt that the problems at the VA are systemic and widespread," Majority Leader Eric Cantor said. "The House will investigate and hold failing bureaucrats accountable while giving our veterans the ability to seek private care when the VA is failing them."
The House bill is similar to one working its way through the upper chamber, thanks to a deal reached by Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and John McCain, R-Ariz., who had previously introduced competing bills.
While both Boehner and Cantor aimed barbs at Senate Democrats for not passing their bills first, the upper house is not far behind with legislation of its own.
The Senate bill, in addition to allowing veterans to seek outside healthcare, would give the VA secretary more authority to fire senior officials, a provision that already passed the House in a separate bill. In addition, the Senate bill would approve the construction of 26 new major medical facilities in 18 states and puts $500 million in undesignated funds toward hiring new doctors and other health care staff.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate minority leader, told reporters Tuesday that the bipartisan bill was "ready to go."
"Maybe we'll even finish it this week," he said.