NTU urges all Representatives to vote “YES” on H.R. 5620, the “VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act of 2016.” This legislation would protect veterans and taxpayers by empowering the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to take necessary measures against employees who fail to meet the high standards of performance and conduct required to meet the mission of the VA. The bill also takes important steps toward improving whistleblower safeguards.
Despite the recent enactment of a massive VA reform bill, it has become clear that much more needs to change at the VA. Earlier scandals have snowballed into all new examples of what Representative Jeff Miller (R-FL) has called “systemic malfeasance.” The news of manipulated wait-times at VA hospitals first broke in 2014 – unfortunately, little has changed since then. Today we know that falsified records were a widespread problem affecting at least 40 medical facilities and resulting in the deaths of at least 316 people, but fewer than 10 employees have been fired for their role. In the same time frame, while veterans were waiting for care, news has surfaced of massive cost overruns for new construction, and $20 million in wasteful spending including a $1 million sculpture and a $21,000 artificial Christmas tree.
These incidents point to a culture of negligence and waste that must be addressed in conjunction with other much-needed reforms. Without the meaningful consequences and accountability for wrongdoing H.R. 5620 provides, taxpayers will be unsurprised to hear news of further scandals and mismanagement in the near future.
Finally, and perhaps most critically, the bill incorporates elements of whistleblower protection legislation previously introduced separately (H.R. 571, the “VA Retaliation Prevention Act”). These provisions represent very good, if not final, progress toward shielding conscientious employees from on-the-job reprisals. Whistleblowers serve a vital role in exposing waste, fraud, and abuse – all serious problems the VA needs help in addressing from both inside and out in order to better serve our veterans.
Roll call votes on H.R. 5620 will be included in our annual Rating of Congress and a “Yes” vote will be considered the pro-taxpayer position.
If you have any questions, please contact NTU Federal Affairs Manager Nan Swift at (703) 683-5700