A bill that would create greater accountability measures on Department of Veterans Affairs workers and enhance protection for whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday.
The H.R. 5620: VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act, would allow the VA secretary more flexibility to fire, demote or otherwise punish mid-to-lower level employees for misconduct or poor performance, according to a release sent out by the bill’s co-sponsor Alabama 2nd District U.S. Rep. Martha Roby.
According to Roby, the current accountability measures only apply to senior managers and not rank-and-file employees.
Roby said the legislation will make a difference in improving care for veterans.
“The Central Alabama VA was home to some of the worst abuses nationwide,” explained Roby in a release. “Because of the corruption and misconduct we exposed, the director became the first senior manager fired for cause under the new VA accountability law. That was certainly needed, but it didn’t go far enough.”
“I’ve said all along that the blame for what happened does not rest with one person alone. There has been a culture of complacency at the VA throughout the ranks because mid-to-lower level employees know they can almost never be fired. This reform bill changes that by finally giving the VA Secretary the authority to swiftly fire, demote or otherwise punish employees for poor performance or misconduct.”
Working with whistleblowers and the press, Roby helped expose major instances of malfeasance and mismanagement that resulted in the Central Alabama VA director being the first senior manager in the country fired under the reform law enacted in 2014.
However, that law only allowed the Secretary to deal with senior leaders, not mid-to-lower level employees. Wednesday’s bill would expand those measures down the ranks to ensure all employees can be held accountable for misconduct or poor performance in the treatment of veterans.
Roby also lauded the whistleblower protections contained in the bill, calling the treatment of her sources “a disgrace.”
“The bill also enhances protections for whistleblowers, and I cannot emphasize enough how important that is. If it weren’t for the brave whistleblowers who told me the truth, who knows if we’d have ever gotten to the bottom of the problems in Central Alabama,” said Roby. “And, the way they were treated was a disgrace. There need to be real consequences for intimidating or retaliating against whistleblowers, and this bill delivers just that.”
In summary, H.R. 5620 does the following:
- Authorizes the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to fire, or demote any VA employee for performance or misconduct. Employees would be afforded due process, including an expedited appeal to the Merit Systems Protections Board;
- Authorizes the Secretary to reduce a senior manager’s pension if they are convicted of a felony related to their job.
- Enhances protections for whistleblowers by providing additional reporting mechanisms and mandating that any supervisor found to have retaliated against a whistleblower be suspended or terminated, with the possibility of bonus recoupment.
- Improves the VA’s appeals process by giving veterans more options and better clarity for pursuing an appeal.