Next week the Senate is slated to vote on the Veterans Affairs (VA) Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, and not a moment too soon. For more than three years since the Phoenix wait list scandal broke, veteran advocates have been demanding change at the VA, and Congress just might have finally gotten the message – veterans must come first.
In those three years since news of secret wait lists and dying veterans broke, stories of unimaginable misconduct and malfeasance at VA facilities across the country have emerged regularly. Cockroaches have infested kitchens, facilities have possibly infected patients with HIV, equipment has gone missing or unused, hundreds of millions of dollars have been wasted on construction projects, thousands of veterans may have had their traumatic brain injuries misdiagnosed, calls to the Veterans Crisis Line have gone to voicemail, and veterans have died while waiting for their appointments at VA hospitals.
These are just a few of the hundreds of incidences where veterans have faced a “VA first” mentality from the agency whose existence is based on taking care of veterans. As we see with most government-run programs, bureaucracy and red tape get in the way of even the noblest of missions. But new accountability legislation will make huge strides in changing that.
The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act will decrease the time it takes to fire a bad employee, which currently takes months to accomplish, if it’s accomplished at all. The bill will also give the VA Secretary authority to recoup bonuses awarded to employees found to have engaged in misconduct, reduce pensions of VA employees found guilty of felonies related to their VA employment, and keep employees in the termination process off VA’s payroll. Finally, this bill strengthens whistleblower protection to ensure there is no retaliation or intimidate for those who expose wrongdoing.
The problem with the VA is a problem of culture. While many VA employees love the veterans they serve and do fantastic jobs, there are also many who fall to the culture of “no consequence” that is all too prevalent in the federal government. Bureaucratic holdups, a system filled with employees who haven’t been fired for wrongdoing, and a lack of fortitude to challenge the status quo have perpetuated a toxic VA that is unable to move forward. The provisions in the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act will ensure those who prohibit veterans from getting access to quality care are removed from the system so that good employees can thrive and care for vets properly.
A vote on this bill is coming soon, but the fight isn’t over yet. Many senators have voiced support for the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, but all should be on board with accountability at the VA. Call your senator now and make sure they support bringing accountability to the VA and putting veterans first by voting yes on this important bill next week.
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