Vote Notes: VA Accountability First Act of 2017
Yesterday, the House voted on H.R. 1259, or the Veterans Affairs (VA) Accountability First Act, offered by Representative Phil Roe. I voted for the bill, which passed 237-178.
In April of 2014, a retired VA employee came forward with accusations that senior managers at the VA hospital in Phoenix had instructed their staff to maintain a secret list of patients waiting for appointments, for the purpose of artificially lowering the reported average wait time. Sadly, the incident at the Phoenix VA proved to be only the tip of an iceberg.
In response to the unfolding scandal, Congress passed a comprehensive VA reform bill called the Veterans’ Access to Choice and Accountability Act in August of 2014. That bill included a provision granting the Secretary of Veterans Affairs expedited authority to demote or fire senior-level employees for poor performance or misconduct. The VA Accountability First Act would expand that authority to cover all employees at the VA. Employees who have filed for whistleblower status, however, would be protected from retaliatory disciplinary actions.
The bill shrinks the timeline for appeals of disciplinary actions from the current 349 days to just 45. During this time, employees with cases under appeal could not receive pay, bonuses or other benefits, nor could they be placed on paid administrative leave. VA employees who do not succeed in their appeal, or who decide not to appeal at all, could be forced to repay any awards, bonuses or relocation expenses they may have been given. If an employee is convicted of a felony, they would be subject to a reduction in their retirement benefits.
It's a small, but common sense measure that goes to the heart of spending resources in a better way. Since 2011, the VA has paid out almost $650 million in malpractice lawsuit settlements and $200 million to settle disputed construction contracts….and it is better management that can impact numbers like these.