The Senate, looking to protect the interests of 30 million veterans and their dependents, overwhelmingly approved legislation Tuesday creating a Cabinet-level Department of Veterans Affairs.
The bill was approved 84-11. Negotiators will work out technical differences between the bill and a version the House passed last November, just a week after it was recommended by President Reagan.The secretary of veterans' affairs would be the 14th Cabinet secretary and the fifth added since 1960.
Voting against elevating the Veterans Administration to Cabinet level were Sens. William Armstrong, R-Colo.; Dan Evans, R-Wash.; Jake Garn, R-Utah; Gordon Humphrey, R-N.H.; Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan.; James McClure, R-Idaho; William Proxmire, D-Wis.; Dan Quayle, R-Ind.; Warren Rudman, R-N.H.; Simpson, and Steven Symms, R-Idaho.
Not voting were Sens. Joe Biden, D-Del.; Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Jesse Helms, R-N.C.; Paul Trible, R-Va., and John Warner, R-Va.
"For the first time, the Veterans Administration will have direct access to the president without an intervening party," Sen. Spark Matsunaga, D-Hawaii, said Monday as the Senate debated the measure. "For the first time, the secretary of veterans' affairs will sit in the highest policy councils of the land."
Earlier in the day, the Senate agreed to allow veterans to appeal to the courts when their claims for benefits are denied by VA. That measure also would repeal a provision, enacted at the end of the Civil War, that prohibits lawyers from charging more than $10 to press a claim for a veteran.
This bill, approved on an 86-11 vote, has failed four times in the House in recent years.