(Photo by Marty Callaghan)

Boehner, others tout Legion-backed VA accountability bill

Speaker of the House John Boehner and other members of Congress publicly endorsed American Legion-backed legislation that would, if enacted, make removal of under-performing or miscreant VA executives easier and more certain. American Legion Legislative Director Louis Celli was among the speakers at today’s press conference in Washington, D.C., joining House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. Jackie Walorski and Pete Hegseth, CEO of Concerned Veterans of America.

The legislation is in the form of two bills, one in the U.S. House and one in the Senate, both called the “Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act of 2014.” In brief, the Act, “authorizes the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) to remove any [VA] employee from a Senior Executive Service (SES) position upon determining that such individual’s performance warrants removal.” It also allows the VA secretary to fire that person from the civil service or demote him or her as the Secretary sees fit.

The proposed legislation help answer what critics believe has been a gross lack of accountability within VA executive ranks in the wake of allegedly preventable veteran deaths in VA medical facilities as well as hospital construction delays and budget overruns. The House version of the Act was introduced by Miller on Feb. 11; Rubio submitted his identically worded measure to the Senate the same day. In his press conference remarks, Miller repeatedly made the point that, in his estimation, "it is easier for [a badly performing VA executive] to get a bonus than it is to get fired." Miller said he did not, however, favor the dismissal of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

“In 1918, when World War I ended, there was no national veteran’s hospital system,” Celli said at the press conference. “Compensation authorized for disabled veterans, widows and orphans was inadequate and delayed. The administration of veterans programs was in the hands of too many agencies and was neglected. This is why The American Legion worked closely with Congress over the next 10 years to help establish what we know today as The Department of Veterans Affairs.“The American Legion is a partner with the VA and has a vested interest in making sure it operates effectively and efficiently, which is why we support …The Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act of 2014.

“On behalf of Commander (Daniel M.) Dellinger and the 2.5 million members of The American Legion, we would like to thank the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Chairman Miller, and Speaker Boehner for their leadership and support as we work toward making sure The Department of Veterans Affairs is well supported, well managed, and well funded so that it can carry out the mission of caring for those who have borne the battle.”