Committee Passes Sweeping VA Accountability Reforms, Veterans’ Benefits Legislation
Includes Isakson bill to increase veterans’ disability compensation
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, today applauded the committee passage of several pieces of legislation aimed at increasing accountability at the scandal-ridden Department of Veterans Affairs and improving veterans’ benefits and health care.
“I am very proud, having worked with Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal and all the members of the committee, that we are bringing about accountability to the VA,” said Isakson.
The committee approved comprehensive accountability measures – the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability Act of 2015 and a bill to prohibit the VA from granting bonuses to employees found guilty of misconduct – that seek to protect both veterans and taxpayers.
The committee’s action comes on the heels of the indictment of Cathedral Henderson, a former manager at the Augusta, Ga., VA Medical Center. Henderson’s indictment on July 17, 2015, was the first criminal charge that has arisen from investigations following the Phoenix, Ariz., wait-time scandal last year.
“When we came together as a committee in January, we decided that we were going to see to it that the situation that happened in Phoenix and some of the problems at the VA were investigated and that those investigations were carried out to their fullest extent, including criminal investigations if there was wrongdoing to the detriment of care to a veteran,” said Isakson. “It is unacceptable to me for the problems that have occurred over the last few years to continue to happen.”
In addition, the committee today voted unanimously to approve the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2015 (S.1493), introduced by Isakson earlier this year to boost veterans’ disability compensation to adjust for rising costs of living.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability Act of 2015 (S.1082), introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in coordination with Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., gives the secretary of the VA firing authority over any delinquent employee within the department. This legislation seeks to expand on a provision included in the Veterans’ Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 that gave the secretary firing authority over senior executives in light of the wait-time scandal that erupted in Phoenix, Ariz.
The second accountability measure passed by committee was S.627, introduced by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., in coordination with Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., to prevent the VA from awarding bonuses to negligent employees. The bill also gives the VA authority to rescind bonuses paid out to employees who are later found to have violated a department policy or law.
Isakson noted that while the vast majority of VA’s employees are hard-working public servants who have dedicated their lives to serving veterans, a small percentage of bad actors continue to cause scandals and fail to provide the health care veterans deserve.
“I’m going to see to it that our veterans get the services they deserve, and when people need to be held accountable for their adverse actions, the VA is able to do so,” said Isakson.
Additionally, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs approved the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery and Other Improvements Act (S.1203) introduced by Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., an omnibus bill that includes several provisions to improve veterans’ health care and streamline veterans’ benefits services.
Each of the bills approved by the committee will now be reported favorably to the full Senate.
The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 114th Congress.
Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate VA Committee since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the military as well as more than 750,000 veterans.