WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders said Sunday he will introduce legislation this week that would offer military veterans the option of private medical care, rather than endure long waits at facilities under the troubled Veterans Affairs Department.
"We are going to introduce legislation, either [today] or Tuesday, which addresses the short-term need to make sure that any veteran who is on a long waiting line will be able to get the care that he or she needs, either at a private facility or a community health center or Department of Defense base," said the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and a Vermont Independent, on CBS's "Face the Nation."
Eric Shinseki resigned Friday as Veterans Affairs secretary, under fire for scheduling abuses to cover up long wait times for health care at VA facilities. In Phoenix, doctors have said some 40 veterans died while awaiting health care.
Republican Sen. John McCain said on the show that veterans had lost confidence in the VA and that the agency's problems are systemic.
"This scandal qualifies for a Department of Justice investigation and it should have started some time ago," said the Arizona senator.
Mr. Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, had said last month that he would reintroduce a bill to expand veterans' benefits that had been blocked by the Senate's Republican minority in February.
Mr. McCain, said the key to fixing the problem was giving veterans the flexibility to get the care they need at the closest, most available place.
"And that's the solution to this problem is flexibility to the veteran to choose their health care, just like other people under other health care plans have the -- are able to do," Mr. McCain, a Vietnam veteran, said. "Why doesn't that veteran have a card and go to the caregiver that he or she needs and wants?"
Republicans, including Mr. McCain and Richard Burr, N.C., have announced plans to introduce a series of proposals as soon as Tuesday but have not specified what they might include.
The VA spent about $4.8 billion last year on medical care at non-VA hospitals and clinics. That amounts to about 10 percent of health care costs for the Veterans Health Administration.
Associated Press and The Washington Post contributed.