This week, Congress will take action on major bipartisan legislation to help our veterans get better care and better results from the VA. It is the latest response to the VA scandals of the last three years.
In the spring of 2014, the American people learned that dozens of veterans died while languishing on secret wait lists at the Phoenix VA hospital. As it turned out, wait lists were being manipulated throughout the country. The agency has careened from scandal to scandal since, from the theft and overprescription of opioids to having calls to the VA’s suicide hotline go unanswered.
While veterans suffered, there was a clear lack of urgency at the highest levels. Last year, then-VA Secretary Robert McDonald compared the wait lines for care to Disneyland. In his last weeks in office, President Obama stated that a ‘whole bunch of people’ had been fired for the scandal, but in reality, only about a handful were. Indeed, many VA bureaucrats were able to keep their jobs, and their taxpayer-funded bonuses too.
When new VA Secretary David Shulkin began to go about making changes, he came to realize just how much of an uphill battle he faced. At a recent White House press briefing, he cited as an example having to wait more than a month “to fire a psychiatrist who was caught on camera watching pornography using his iPad while seeing a veteran.”
Our veterans deserve the best care, and instead the VA exhibits the worst of government bureaucracy. That is why this week, Congress will send a major bipartisan VA reform measure to the president’s desk. It is S. 1094, the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act.
· We will streamline the process to remove, demote, or suspend VA employees for poor performance or misconduct. The Secretary will also be able to recoup taxpayer-funded bonuses from employees who have acted improperly.
· We will expand protections for whistleblowers and bar the VA from removing an employee who has an open complaint.
· Because of all this ongoing uncertainty, many VA hospitals have acting medical directors. We will give the VA Secretary the authority to appoint permanent medical directors who can provide the steady leadership that VA hospitals and their patients need.
With real accountability, we can begin to make the real changes needed to fix the VA once and for all.
The Senate passed this legislation earlier this month, and it enjoys strong grassroots support from veterans’ service organizations. After the House acts on Tuesday, we will be sending this measure to the president’s desk.
This is all part of our agenda to address the problems Americans face in their everyday lives. And it is another step to get our veterans the care they need when they need it.