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Schumer backs bill to speed up firing of VA officials after hospital scandal

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer holds a news

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer holds a news conference in his New York City office to discuss veteran health legislation on Sunday, June 8, 2014. Credit: Charles Eckert

The deaths of several veterans while waiting for medical care demand that Congress pass legislation to speed up the firing process of "incompetent" high-level Veterans Affairs administrators, Sen. Charles Schumer said Sunday.

In the Phoenix VA system, 1,700 veterans on "secret lists" were never in line for medical appointments they had requested, resulting in as many as 40 deaths, officials said.

"While I feel confident that the level of mistreatment we saw in Phoenix is not occurring in New York, we can never be too careful," Schumer said at a Manhattan news conference.

Since the audit is ongoing, the quality of health care locally is unknown, Schumer said.

The legislation Schumer discussed is sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Sen. John McCain, (R-Arizona).

It would also expedite the hiring of new medical personnel and allow the VA to lease 26 new medical facilities to expand care. It is expected to be up for a vote in the Senate this week or next.

About 345,000 people are enrolled in veteran health care in the New York and New Jersey systems, according to the VA.

The Northport Veteran Affairs Medical Center annually admits about 3,600 patients, has 542,000 outpatient visits and 14,000 emergency room visits, according to the American Hospital Association.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Sunday did not return a request for comment.

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