VA Accountability Measure Sails Through Senate

Senators applaud swift passage of measure to give VA secretary tools to discipline bad actors

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., ranking member of the committee, today applauded the Senate passage of the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, bipartisan legislation that would reform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) by allowing the secretary to dismiss bad employees and ensure appropriate due process protections for whistleblowers.

“Americans who fought for our country deserve to have the best care available to them,” said Isakson. “Too often, the inability to hold bad actors at the VA accountable has undermined its mission to deliver on this promise to our nation’s veterans. This bill will give Secretary Shulkin the tools necessary to discipline bad employees in a timely and appropriate manner, protect whistleblowers from the threat of retaliation and help improve the quality of care that our veterans receive at the VA. I thank my colleagues in the Senate for supporting and passing this important piece of legislation, and I encourage the U.S. House to follow suit so that we can quickly get it to the president’s desk and restore a culture of accountability at the VA.”

“I am incredibly pleased that the Senate has passed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, legislation that I introduced with Chairman Isakson and Ranking Member Tester,” said Rubio. “I believe the vast majority of Department of Veterans Affairs employees serve our veterans admirably.  However, the VA Secretary needs the ability to make real reforms, including expedited authority to fire and suspend bad employees. Also under this bill, whistleblowers who come forward to expose wrongdoing at the department will be protected from retaliation. It has been an honor working on this bipartisan legislation with Senators Tester and Isakson, the VA Secretary, and the many veterans service organizations who supported the effort. We have been working on these reforms for years, and I look forward to the president signing this much needed bill into law.”

“This bill will crack down on bad employees who jeopardize veterans’ health care while also protecting the hardworking folks who dedicate their careers to those who served,” said Tester. “I urge the House of Representatives to quickly take up and pass this critical legislation to make sure that the VA can provide the best possible care and benefits for veterans.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act was introduced by Isakson, Rubio and Tester on May 11. The measure passed the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs by voice vote on Wednesday, May 24.

Along with Isakson, Rubio and Tester, 37 other senators are cosponsors of the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, including Senators Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., John Boozman, R-Ark., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Bill Cassidy, R-La., Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Susan Collins, R-Maine, John Cornyn, R-Texas, Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Steve Daines, R-Mont., Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Cory Gardner, R-Colo., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Dean Heller, R-Nev., John Hoeven, R-N.D., Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., John Kennedy, R-La., Angus King, I-Maine, John McCain, R-Ariz., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Rand Paul, R-Ky., David Perdue, R-Ga., Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Mike Rounds, R-S.D., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, Thom Tillis, R-N.C., Pat Toomey, R-Pa., John Thune, R-S.D. and Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act is widely supported by key veterans stakeholders including the VA and U.S. House VA committee leadership. It has also won the support of numerous veterans advocacy groups that represent millions of veterans in the United States and key government accountability groups. Read more about the legislation’s support here.

Background:

The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act increases the VA’s authority to remove employees at all levels of the department, shortens the removal process and ensures an individual removed from the VA is not kept on the VA’s payroll while appealing that decision. It will also make it easier for the VA to remove poor performing senior executives and replace them with qualified candidates. Additionally, any appeals by senior VA executives would no longer be brought before the Merit Systems Protection Board, but instead would be handled directly by the VA secretary under an expedited timeline.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act will establish in law the newly created Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection within the VA, which mirrors a proposal first introduced by Isakson in his Veterans First Act last Congress.

The legislation also includes a number of other provisions to hold employees accountable, including:

  • Requires the VA to evaluate supervisors based on the protection of whistleblowers;
  • Incentivizes managers to address poor performance and misconduct among employees by requiring the VA secretary to include this as part of the annual performance plan;
  • Prohibits bonuses for employees who have been found guilty of wrongdoing; and
  • Prohibits relocation expenses to employees who abuse the system.

A one-page summary of the legislation can be found here.

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The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 115th 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 Committee on Veterans’ Affairs 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.