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Senate's VA deal 'revolutionary:' Veterans advocate

A bipartisan deal in the Senate designed to alleviate treatment delays at Veterans Affairs hospitals is revolutionary and will help veterans, Concerned Veterans for America's Dan Caldwell told CNBC.

"We think this is a very important reform, and it actually starts to chip away at the VA's inefficient, ineffective single-payer health-care system," he said in an interview with "Street Signs."

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been under fire for allegedly covering up the deaths of 40 patients awaiting care at VA facilities in Phoenix. Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned last week. His replacement, Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson, said Thursday that VA staff contacted 1,700 veterans whose names appeared on secret waiting lists and discovered 18 had already died.

Read MoreSenators in deal on veterans health scandal; 18 deaths confirmed

The Senate's bipartisan deal, if passed, would give veterans more access to private doctors and allow the VA to open 26 clinics, hire more doctors and nurses, and fire staff.

Exterior view of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center on May 8, 2014 in Phoenix, Arizona.
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Exterior view of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center on May 8, 2014 in Phoenix, Arizona.

The fact that legislation is needed to give the secretary power to fire poor-performing staff is a reflection of how bad things are at the VA, said Caldwell, who is a Marine Corps veteran and once worked as a congressional caseworker in Phoenix handling constituents' issues with the VA.

"It is a revolutionary piece of legislation for the VA, but it is a pretty sad thing to say and pretty reflective on the state of affairs at the VA when simply giving the secretary the ability to fire a manager who has engaged in gross misconduct is revolutionary," he said.

Read MoreVeterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigns

Caldwell also pointed out that the ability to seek private care will mostly be available to veterans in rural areas and to those who have been waiting a long time to receive treatment.

"If veterans have that option, many will chose the private route," he said.

Read MoreVA scandal tells bigger health-care story: Doctor

As a former congressional case, Caldwell said he never heard of any secret waiting lists, but said there were serious problems getting veterans in to see doctors and getting their claims processed in a timely manner.

"I'd see veterans come in and my first response is why can't these veterans go and see a private provider … Why are they waiting months on end to go to a primary care provider at the VA when there are some great private sector options," he said.

—By CNBC's Michelle Fox. Reuters contributed to this report.

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