For years the country has agonized over an endless stream of horrifying stories about how the VA system treats veterans in desperate need of care.
We've seen infinite wait times result in thousands of veteran deaths, bodies left in morgues for months, roaches crawling across hospital room floors and suicide hotlines going unanswered. Just last week we learned a VA dentist in Wisconsin allegedly infected nearly 600 veterans with HIV and other deadly diseases after repeatedly ignoring protocol and using dirty utensils. Instead of being fired, the dentist was moved into an administrative position.
Current federal law protects federal employees like the dentist. In order for reform at the VA to take place these policies, which reward bad employees rather than punishing them, must and can change.
Back in September the House passed the VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act of 2016, which allows for bad VA employees to be fired quickly. The legislation was passed with a veto-proof, bipartisan majority 310-116. Here's what it would do:
-Shorten the firing/demotion/appeals process for rank-and-file VA employees from more than a year on average to no more than 77 days
-Remove entirely the Merit Systems Protection Board from the firing/demotion/appeals process for VA senior executives
-Provide VA whistleblowers with a means to solve problems at the lowest level possible, while offering them protection from reprisals and mandating strict accountability for those who reprise against them
-Give the VA secretary the authority to recoup bonuses and relocation expenses from misbehaving employees
-Give the VA secretary the authority to reduce the pensions of senior executives convicted of felonies that influenced their job performance
-Reform the department’s broken disability benefits appeals process
“The Department of Veterans Affairs will never be truly worthy of the veterans it serves until it addresses its pervasive lack of accountability among employees at all levels. The VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act gets rid of the loopholes that have been unfairly forcing veterans and the many good VA workers to deal with deadwood employees for years," House Committee on Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller said when the bill was passed. "I’m proud to stand with my colleagues in the House in passing this important legislation. Additionally, I would like to thank Sen. Marco Rubio for leading the fight in the Senate to fix VA’s accountability problems and sponsoring the Senate companion bill to H.R. 5620, which the Senate should take up and pass in short order.”
It's now up to the Senate to take a vote and get the legislation to the president's desk.