The controversy over delayed access to care at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals veered, over the weekend, away from allegations of incompetence at the top of the agency toward a broader fight over resources and the future of government health care for an expanding pool of veterans.
The issue carries risk for Republicans because they could be left with a politically difficult effort to privatize at least some veterans’ health care or to pump more money into a system covering about 2.8 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an option veterans groups have demanded but Republican leaders have resisted.
“What we need to establish now is how we can provide high-quality, timely health care to all of our veterans, period,” said Senator Bernard Sanders, independent of Vermont and the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, who is preparing legislation for Senate consideration in the coming weeks. “At a time when we have a major primary-care crisis, how do we make sure the V.A. gets the staffing they need?”
The open letter, from Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on the Veterans Affairs Committee — and the groups’ responses — pushed the conflict into the open.