Tester, Boozman, Manchin Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Strengthen VA Oversight for Veterans and Taxpayers

(U.S. Senate) – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.), U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are teaming up to strengthen oversight of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for veterans and taxpayers.

The Senators introduced the Strengthening Oversight for Veterans Act of 2021 this week to provide VA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) the authority to subpoena testimony from former VA employees who have left federal service, former contractor personnel who performed work for the Department, or other potentially relevant individuals during the course of its inspections, reviews, and investigations. Under current law, VA OIG does not have testimonial subpoena authority to compel individuals relevant to investigations to answer questions in person and under oath. This can limit both VA OIG and Congress’ ability to conduct complete and thorough reviews, including of VA health care and benefits programs, management actions, and contracts.

“Providing veterans with timely, quality care and benefits starts by making sure VA is performing at its highest and most efficient level,” said Chairman Tester. “VA’s Office of Inspector General plays a critical role in this effort—providing independent oversight over the Department on behalf of veterans, taxpayers, and Congress. Our bipartisan bill will provide this important watchdog with the necessary tools to detect fraud and abuse at all levels, ensuring our nation’s veterans get the best possible care and benefits from VA.”

“We have a responsibility to ensure veterans are receiving care of the best quality because it’s what they deserve. The Strengthening Oversight for Veterans Act will allow the VA Inspector General to administer more thorough investigations and reviews into allegations of misconduct so we can improve transparency and accountability at the Department,” Senator Boozman said. 

“America’s Veterans have made great sacrifices to protect our nation; some have even made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. Now it is our duty to take care of them, which starts with ensuring accountability at the VA. Veterans in my home state of West Virginia have experienced the impacts of top-down VA leadership failures, which resulted in the tragic deaths of seven Veterans at the Clarksburg VA Medical Center. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) currently does not have testimonial subpoena powers, which resulted in the OIG having limited authority during the Clarksburg VAMC investigation. Our bipartisan legislation would address this glaring oversight by granting the OIG the proper authority to conduct thorough investigations and begin to rebuild the relationship between West Virginia Veterans and the VA,” said Senator Manchin.  

Among its many provisions, the Strengthening Oversight for Veterans Act will:

  • Provide the VA Inspector General the authority to subpoena testimony from relevant individuals in the course of its investigations;
  • Require the VA Inspector General to notify the Attorney General (AG) of the United States if he/she intends to issue a subpoena, allowing the AG the opportunity to object to the issuance of the subpoena if it would interfere with an ongoing investigation;
  • Ensure the VA Inspector General makes clear that a witness can voluntarily cooperate with the Inspector General rather than be subpoenaed and to the greatest extent practicable, have the Inspector General travel to the location of a participating witness rather than making them travel far distances; and
  • Require the VA OIG to report to Congress regularly on the number of times they have used this new authority and other related topics.

Earlier this year, VA OIG issued a damning report tied to the horrific events at the VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia where a former VA nursing assistant was convicted of seven counts of murder and one count of assault with the intent to commit murder of veterans receiving care there. The VA OIG’s report noted that a lack of testimonial subpoena authority limited its ability to conduct a more thorough review of the incident.

Full text of the Senators’ bill can be found HERE.