VA Accountability First Act Reforms Critical for Veterans, Taxpayers, and Whistleblowers

NTU urges all Representatives to vote “YES” on H.R. 1259, the “VA Accountability First Act.” 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 enactment of a massive VA reform bill in 2014, after news of manipulated wait-times at VA hospitals first broke, little has changed in the three ensuing years. Earlier scandals have snowballed into all new examples of what former Representative Jeff Miller (R-FL) called “systemic malfeasance.” 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 were fired for their roles.  In the same time frame, while veterans were waiting for care, news 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.

Underscoring the need for significant reforms, a recent U.S. Office of Special Counsel report found many veterans were still facing massive wait-times, and at least one paid the ultimate price for this mismanagement. Further, VA employees with problematic work-histories continue to be promoted and placed in positions of influence that can undermine veteran care.

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. 1259 provides, taxpayers will be unsurprised to hear news of further scandals and misconduct future.

Finally, and perhaps most critically, the bill incorporates elements of whistleblower protection legislation previously introduced separately in the 114th Congress (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 were the first to raise the alarm about VA wait-time and record-keeping issues, and in return for this service to country have been met with retaliation. Whistleblowers continue to 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. 1259 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