WASHINGTON - Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee was one of only three votes Wednesday against a bill to bolster veterans' medical treatment by allowing them to seek care from private doctors and enable the Department of Veterans Affairs to move quickly to fire employees for poor performance.
The bill passed 93-3. Also voting against were fellow Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
"I value too much the sacrifice and service our veterans have given to our country to vote for a bill that was thrown together without any discussion by this body and increases the deficit by at least $35 billion," Corker said in a statement.
"This bill is moving back to the House where I hope they will more thoughtfully address the serious issues that have been uncovered in the VA and ensure the bill is paid for in a way that does not burden future generations with crushing debt so I can support it when it comes back to the Senate."
For the next two years, the bill would let veterans go to civilian doctors if they reside more than 40 miles from a VA hospital or clinic or have been waiting more than 30 days for an appointment. It also provides funding for more VA health providers.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he strongly backed the bill.
"This legislation is a big, fundamental change in how our country provides VA medical care," Alexander said.
"It is the first big step in giving veterans the same choices for their health care that our country has given them for higher education since the G.I. Bill was enacted in 1944."
The House passed similar legislation Tuesday with all nine members from Tennessee voting yes.