Last night, House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) Chairman Phil Roe (R-TN) introduced new legislation to combat the misconduct at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA Accountability First Act of 2017 would strengthen the disciplinary process, empower VA leadership regarding pensions and bonuses, and protect whistleblowers.
Rep. Roe has been a strong advocate for more accountability at the VA in his time on the committee and now in his role as HVAC Chairman. Roe’s new legislation will ensure that misconduct at the VA is dealt with effectively and quickly so that veterans are put first – not VA bureaucrats.
The VA Accountability First Act of 2017 includes several bold proposals on accountability for VA employees – specifically in the disciplinary process.
- First and foremost, this act would shorten the termination and appeals process to take no more than 77 days. Currently, it can take months, even years, to successfully fire a poorly performing VA employees. The complexity and length of the process has caused less than 10 employees involved in the Phoenix VA wait list scandal to be fired. Additionally, it took over 700 days to fire 3 executives for involvement in the Phoenix scandal.
- Second, this bill would do away with paid leave for VA employees appealing their terminations. Looking again at the Phoenix wait list scandal, two of the employees responsible for those wait lists stayed on paid leave for nearly two years while they appealed their firing. The VA Secretary should have the authority to separate employees without taxpayer funds going to termination appeals.
- Third, reforms would be made regarding bonuses, pensions, and payments. This bill would give the VA the authority to recoup bonuses given to those found to have engaged in misconduct. It would also empower the VA Secretary to reduce the pensions of senior executives who are convicted of felonies. Finally, this bill would allow the VA to recover relocation payments that were made in error. You can thank Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves for that provision, two Regional Office directors who were involved in a hiring-system scheme, moved themselves to facilities they preferred while pushing others out, and kept their jobs. There are few better case studies for the need for stronger accountability measures than that.
- Finally, The VA Accountability First Act of 2017 would protect a valuable resource – VA whistleblowers. Whistleblowers are essential to protecting the safety of veterans and the integrity of their care. Unfortunately, there has emerged a culture of intimidation and retaliation against whistleblowers in many facilities. This bill will ensure that those who alert the public to misconduct, some saving veterans’ lives, are protected from retaliation and that others.
This act is essential to ensuring veterans are taken care of properly. Accountability measures such as these are necessary to fix the VA’s culture so that quality of care reforms are able to take root and improve health care. VA staff must be the best of the best in order for all other reforms to work and the VA Accountability First Act will make that happen.
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