The U.S. Senate passed a bill aimed at holding Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees accountable for their actions and protecting those who speak out against misconduct in the department.
Senate Bill 1094, the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, passed with bipartisan support by a voice vote on June 6, exactly 73 years after the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Normandy, France during World War II.
If approved by the House of Representatives and signed by President Donald Trump, the bill will allow VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin to expedite the firing of VA employees, retract bonuses, and reduce the pensions of employees found guilty of felonies.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the bill on May 11. Congress has considered several other bills aimed at holding VA employees accountable in the wake of a Veterans Health Administration hospital system scandal in Phoenix, Arizona in 2014, in which more than 30 veterans died awaiting care at a VA health facility.
James Fellinger, press secretary at Concerned Veterans for America, says the Phoenix scandal unveiled deep misconduct and a harmful environment in the department nationwide, which has yet to be remedied.
“This scandal led to the revelation that this practice was occurring at VA medical centers across the nation,” Fellinger said. “It’s been more than three years since the Phoenix VA wait list scandal broke, and nothing has changed. Since that time, a toxic culture of negligence and abuse has continued at the VA and put veterans’ lives at risk.”
The current system prevents senior VA officials from disciplining negligent employees, Fellinger says.
“Currently, there are more than 1,500 employees awaiting disciplinary decisions for misconduct, which illustrates the scale of the challenge to hold bad VA employees accountable,” Fellinger said.
Taxpayers are sometimes required to continue paying the salaries of VA employees guilty of criminal misconduct, Fellinger says.
“VA officials around the nation have been found guilty of crimes or misconduct but have remained on the VA payroll,” Fellinger said. “The former director of the Phoenix VA hospital, who eventually pled guilty in federal court to ethics violations, continued to receive a paycheck from taxpayers long after the scandal broke under her watch.”
SB 1094 would prevent official retribution against individuals who expose misconduct within the VA, Fellinger says.
“Around the nation, there have been countless examples of employees who are retaliated against for speaking up about malpractice at VA facilities,” Fellinger said. “President Trump established a new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection within the VA. This bill will give that department teeth and allow them to protect whistleblowers.”
The nonpartisan bill has earned the support of President Trump, Fellinger says.
“In addition to having the support of every major veterans group in the nation, the bill has strong bipartisan support from members on both sides of the aisle, as well as Secretary Shulkin himself,” Fellinger said. “President Trump has explicitly stated he will sign this legislation if it reaches his desk.”
Emma Vinton ([email protected]) writes from Troy, Michigan.
Ben Johnson, “House Approves Faster Termination Process for VA Employees,” Health Care News, The Heartland Institute, July 2017: https://heartland.org/news-opinion/news/house-approves-faster-termination-process-for-va-employees
Ben Johnson, “Report: One-Third of Veterans Wait More Than 30 days for Care,” Health Care News, The Heartland Institute, April 23, 2017: https://heartland.org/news-opinion/news/report-one-third-of-veterans-wait-more-than-30-days-for-care
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