WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, PA-11, said Friday the final passage of legislation that overhauls the Veterans Administration and provide veterans with more responsive and accessible health care "is a big step in the right direction."

"Our veterans have sacrificed so much for the country they love, and it is the least we can do to keep the promise we made to provide them with quality health care," he said.

The Veterans Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act (H.R. 3230) is the product of a House-Senate conference committee and passed the House by a massive bipartisan majority of 420-to-5 July 30. The Senate passed it Thursday by a vote of 91-3.

The legislation follows revelations of long wait times at VA medical facilities, falsified records, and the deaths of veterans as a result.

Now headed to President Barack Obama for his signature, the legislation:

- Allows veterans to seek medical attention outside the VA system if an appointment is not available within 30 days or if a veteran resides more than 40 miles from the nearest VA medical facility.

- Provides funding to hire additional doctors, nurses and medical staff.

- Extends several existing pilot programs, including those increasing access to care for veterans with traumatic brain injuries and victims of sexual assault.

- Requires an independent assessment of VA medical care and establishes a Congressional Commission on Care to evaluate access in the VA health system.

- Permits the VA Secretary to fire or demote employees in an expedited fashion based on performance or misconduct, while also including due processes rights.

- Requires public colleges to provide in-state tuition to veterans and eligible dependents in order for the school to remain eligible to receive G.I. Bill education payments.

- Expands the Sgt. Fry Scholarship Program to provide full Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits to spouses of service members who died in the line of duty after 9/11.

"The problems discovered in the VA system needed to be addressed, and we are addressing them now. From the beginning, this was not a Republican or Democrat issue. This was an American issue," Barletta said.