Saturday, April 25, 2015

Chairman Miller to Introduce Legislation to Address Near Complete Lack of Accountability After VA Scandal



US House Rep Jeff Miller (above) is the Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.  His office issued the following statement Thursday:

Apr 23, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Today Chairman Miller will introduce the VA Accountability Act, which would give the Department of Veterans Affairs secretary sweeping new authority to fire corrupt or incompetent employees for cause.

The bill comes in response to VA’s long and well documented history of not holding problem employees accountable. This trend is underscored by the fact that in response to the VA scandal, which centered around medical appointment wait time manipulation, VA has not fired any employees at all for wait time manipulation. In fact, VA has only attempted to discipline eight people for wait time manipulation. At the epicenter of the scandal in Phoenix, two facility leaders have been on paid leave for nearly a year.

Specifically, the bill would:

• Give the secretary the authority to remove any VA employee based on performance or misconduct. The employee would have the right to file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board within seven days of their removal, and the MSPB would have to make a final decision on the removal within 45 days of the appeal submission. Legislation providing the Secretary authority to remove VA senior executive service employees in a similar manner sailed through Congress and was signed into law by the president last August.
• Limit the secretary’s authority to remove or demote an employee if they are a whistleblower who has filed a claim with the Office of Special Counsel.
• Require that all probationary periods for new VA employees last for at least 18 months – instead of the current period of one year. It would also give the secretary the authority to extend this probationary period as he sees fit. When an employee’s probationary period ends, their immediate supervisor would be required to make an affirmative decision that the employee is qualified for their position before full civil service protections are granted.

• Require the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study of VA time, space and resources devoted to labor union activities.

Chairman Miller released the following statement regarding the bill:

“More than a year after enduring the biggest scandal in VA history, in which 110 VA facilities maintained secret lists to hide wait times, the department hasn’t fired a single employee for wait time manipulation. Even worse, rather than disciplining bad employees, VA often just transfers them to other VA facilities or puts them on paid leave for months on end, ensuring taxpayer money is wasted and that bad employees spread their problems to other locations.  From Philadelphia to Reno, Nev., to Nashville, Tenn., to Phoenix, VA’s tradition of transferring problem workers, putting them on paid leave or simply allowing them to go virtually unpunished continues because current civil service rules make it extremely difficult to properly hold employees accountable. I know this because high-ranking VA officials – people who work directly for the secretary – have told me so behind closed doors.  The department’s overwhelming lack of accountability in the wake of the VA scandal is precisely the type of situation that makes the average citizen lose faith in their government and causes quality health care professionals to think twice when considering to work at VA. After all, why would anyone want to work for an organization where corrupt behavior that harms veterans is not only tolerated but often goes virtually unpunished? Everyone knows accountability is a major problem at the department, and right now VA leaders must work with Congress to solve it. That’s why our focus remains on giving the VA secretary more tools to ensure corrupt and incompetent executives face serious consequences for mismanagement and malfeasance that harms veterans.” – Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

Veterans of Foreign Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Concerned Veterans for America released the following statements in support of the bill:

"VA employees need to understand that if they harm veterans, then they will be fired. This bill delivers on that idea and is worthy of our support.” – VFW National Legislative Service Director Raymond Kelley

"IAVA supports Chairman Miller's legislation that gives VA Secretary Bob McDonald increased authority to remove  employees that are not serving our veterans to the standards they have earned. This expands upon the legislation that increased accountability at the Department through the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, which IAVA supported to enact reforms to ensure our veterans can receive the highest level of care possible." IAVA Chief Policy Officer Matthew Miller

“A year after the VA wait list scandal was exposed, there are still hundreds—if not thousands—of VA employees responsible for endangering the well-being of our veterans who have thus far escaped accountability.  The primary reason for this egregious lack of accountability is the VA’s overly-bureaucratic process of removing bad employees from their positions. In order for the VA to be reformed—thereby creating a culture of excellence and accountability—employees who are guilty of misconduct must be removed from their jobs so they stop perpetuating the toxic culture at the VA. That is why Concerned Veterans for America enthusiastically supports Chairman Miller’s legislation to fully empower the VA Secretary to fire or demote poorly-performing or incompetent VA employees and managers from their positions. It’s time to put veterans first, not the unaccountable VA bureaucracy." – Concerned Veterans for America CEO Pete Hegseth

The American Legion also supports the VA Accountability Act.

Read the text of the bill here.


Few People Lost Jobs With V.A. in Scandal
The New York Times
April 22, 2015

Philly VA official promoted just hours after IG said his department manipulated data
The Washington Examiner
April 15, 2015

VA official out as head of troubled Reno office
Las Vegas Review-Journal
March 31, 2015

Nashville VA employee resigned before facing disciplinary measures
The Tennessean
September 7, 2014

VA manipulated vets' appointment data, audit finds
USA Today
July 30, 2014