Legion applauds VA accountability bill passage

The U.S. House of Representatives voted on June 13 to pass S. 1094, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, which will enhance accountability at the VA and provide the department with the tools it needs to improve the care veterans receive.

“On behalf of the 2.2 million members of The American Legion, we applaud the House of Representatives passing of the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017,” said American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt. “This legislation, as currently written, will provide the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs the authorities to improve accountability and raise employee performance and morale. We are impressed by the speed by which Congress acted to move this critical legislation forward to the president’s desk in a bipartisan manner. We look forward to this bill becoming law.”

The bipartisan legislation, which received overwhelming support following a 368-55 vote, will help ensure that VA is accountable to the nation’s veterans by:

• Increasing VA’s authority to remove employees at all levels of the department;

• Shortening the removal process and ensuring an individual removed from the VA is not kept on the VA’s payroll while appealing that decision; and also

• Making it easier for VA to remove poor performing senior executives and replace them with qualified candidates.

In addition, any appeals by senior VA executives would no longer be brought before the Merit Systems Protection Board, but instead would be handled directly by the VA secretary under an expedited timeline, according to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee’s (SVAC) website.

“It’s common sense – we need to hold our employees accountable for their actions if they violate the public trust, and at the same time protect whistleblowers from retaliation,” VA Secretary David Shulkin said in a press release June 13. “This legislation will help us do just that.”

As SVAC noted, S. 1094 also includes a number of other provisions to hold employees accountable:

• Requires VA to evaluate supervisors based on the protection of whistleblowers;

• Incentivizes managers to address poor performance and misconduct among employees by requiring the VA secretary to include this as part of the annual performance plan;

• Prohibits bonuses for employees who have been found guilty of wrongdoing; and

• Prohibits relocation expenses to employees who abuse the system.

Congress sent the bill to President Donald Trump on June 13 and is expected to be signed into law very soon.

During his visit to VA’s headquarters in April, The American Legion witnessed Trump sign an executive order authorizing the formation of an Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection. Trump said that the new office would not only investigate wrongdoing, but also enable Shulkin to hold VA employees accountable for misconduct.