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House slaps VA bureaucrats by passing new oversight bill

This May 19, 2014 photo shows a a sign in front of the Veterans Affairs building in Washington, DC. The VA and Secretary Eric Shinseki are under fire amid reports by former and current VA employees that up to 40 patients may have died because of delayed treatment at an agency hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. AFP PHOTO / Karen BLEIER

The House on Monday evening passed legislation that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs' Office of Inspector General to report to Congress whenever the VA hasn't taken the OIG's advice on how to improve its services.

It was passed in a voice vote after a brief debate in which no opposition was heard.

The House passed legislation Monday evening aimed at boosting oversight of the Department of Veterans Affairs. KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

The bill is the latest attempt at forcing reforms at the VA, which members of both parties have criticized as having failed to shorten healthcare wait times for the nation's veterans. Republicans and Democrats have also complained that VA officials tried to coverup the long wait times veterans were facing, and which are thought to have contributed to the deaths of 40 veterans.

The House has already passed a bill allowing the VA Secretary to fire officials involved in the coverup. The bill passed Monday, however, is aimed at longer-term oversight efforts, which members said is needed because of ongoing failures at the department.

"I'm sick and tired of these bureaucrats and undersecretaries coming before us and saying, we know there's a problem and we're working on it, we take this seriously, we're going to have a fix in a little while," said Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.), the lead sponsor of the bill.

"And yet there never seems to be a fix. Veterans are dying. The time for excuses and delays has long passed. The time for action is now."

"No longer will VA officials be able to hide behind excuses," added Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.). "Instead, with this bill we will take bold steps toward ending the culture of mismanagement and complacency in VA."

Under the bill, the OIG would have to tell Congress whenever it believes its recommendations have been ignored by the VA. That report would trigger a requirement on the part of the VA — it would have to tell Congress which officials are responsible for failing to comply with the recommendation, and direct those managers to fix the problem.

While the House has now passed two VA reform bills, the Senate is struggling to find agreement on a broader bill. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced an agreement last week, but it's not clear when the Senate will move to pass it.

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