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U.S. President Barack Obama leans out to listen to a question during a news conference at the conclusion of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit at the U.S. State Department in Washington August 6, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
U.S. President Barack Obama leans out to listen to a question during a news conference at the conclusion of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit at the U.S. State Department in Washington August 6, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Obama to sign $16.3 billion veterans spending bill

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will travel to a military facility outside Washington on Thursday to sign a $16.3 billion plan to ease health care delays at Veterans Affairs facilities as he seeks to restore confidence in an agency tarnished by the problem.

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The legislation, passed just before Congress left for summer recess, is intended to clear months-long wait lists for healthcare appointments at VA hospitals and clinics. News that the agency was covering up the delays led to the ouster of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in May.

The measure contains $10 billion in new emergency spending and allows veterans to use private doctors at the department's expense if they cannot get an appointment in less than 30 days.

A senior administration official said new leadership at the VA has accelerated veterans' access to care but acknowledged that more work needs to be done.

"Over the past several months the American people have been rightly outraged by stories of misconduct at some VA facilities across the country," a senior administration official said.

Actions by Congress and newly confirmed Veterans' Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald are a good start, the official said in an email. McDonald is due to travel to Phoenix to tour facilities that were at the center of the scandal, the official added.

McDonald "has truly hit the ground running," the official said.

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