FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Contact: Amanda Maddox (Isakson), 202-224-7777
Marnee Banks (Tester), 202-604-5521
Isakson, Tester Respond to Helman Decision
Following court decision that could allow VA director involved in 2014 wait-time scandal to be reinstated, senators call for bipartisan reform
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, today released the following statements after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Helman v. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) ruled that a provision in the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 was unconstitutional. The ruling sends the review of the initial decision back to the Merit Systems Protection Board and could result in the reinstatement of former Phoenix VA healthcare system director Sharon Helman.
“This ruling highlights the urgency and great need for reforms to give Secretary Shulkin the tools necessary to fire bad actors at the VA,” said Isakson. “Senator Tester and I are dedicated to working with our colleagues in the Senate and House as well as with the administration on bipartisan legislation that will allow the VA to adequately hold employees accountable for wrongdoing and withstand legal scrutiny.”
“This decision underscores the need for Congress to pass bipartisan accountability legislation. The VA needs the ability to fire poorly performing employees, and do so in a way that protects constitutional due process, and makes sure that court decisions stick,”said Tester. “This ability is critical to ensuring veterans can access the best possible care at the VA. I look forward to working in a bipartisan manner with my colleagues to reform this process and hold the appropriate folks accountable for delivering for our veterans.”
Sharon Helman was the director of the Phoenix VA healthcare system during the veterans’ wait-time scandal that arose in 2014. Following that scandal, Congress passed legislation which expedited the firing of senior executives such as Helman. After she was fired, Helman sued. The Justice Department opted against defending a provision in the law because, according to department lawyers, the provision was unconstitutional.
Today a federal circuit ruled that a provision in the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 was unconstitutional. Today’s ruling shows that the part of the 2014 law which circumvented the review of the dismissal was unconstitutional and requires the Merit Systems Protection Board to reevaluate the decision.
Helman’s firing still stands, but it is possible she could be reinstated at a VA facility if the Merit Systems Protection Board overturns the original decision which affirmed her firing.
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 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.