- Associated Press - Sunday, June 1, 2014

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) - Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is outlining plans to improve accountability and insure timely medical services at the Veterans Affairs department.

Sanders, who chairs the Senate Veterans’ Affairs committee, says legislation is needed to address what he described as “reprehensible” behavior by VA officials who lied about treatment times at the Phoenix VA and other medical facilities. The problems were highlighted in several government reports and audits last week.

“There must be a culture of honesty and accountability within the VA and people who have lied or manipulated data must be punished,” Sanders said Sunday. “But we also have to get to the root causes of the problems that have been exposed.”

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki publicly apologized and resigned Friday amid the mushrooming scandal over the agency’s health care system that cares for nine million veterans.

The agency has seen an influx of more than a million veterans in the past five years, largely due to returning Iraq and Afghanistan vets.

Sanders says the committee will meet Thursday to consider the Restoring Veterans’ Trust Act of 2014.

The bill would provide veterans who can’t get appointments promptly with VA doctors the option of going to community health centers or private doctors for care. It would also give the VA authority to immediately remove senior executives based on poor job performance.

It also would authorize the VA to lease 27 new health facilities in 18 states.

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