Rep. Tom Graves and Rep. Scott DesJarlais, M.D., voted for and the House passed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act (S. 1094), sending it to the President’s desk.
“Our veterans made countless sacrifices serving our nation and protecting our freedom,” said Rep. Graves. “They deserve the best possible care we can provide. This legislation will help improve services and care at the Department of Veterans Affairs by empowering the Trump administration to get the bad apples out so the good employees can do their jobs.
“While this doesn’t fix every problem at the VA, it’s a big step in the right direction. I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress and the administration to continue addressing the issues at the VA. Our veterans and their families deserve nothing less.”
Specifically, H.R. 1259 increases accountability at the VA by making it easier for the VA Secretary to punish or fire bad employees. It also improves whistleblower protections so employees who witness misconduct can report it without fearing retaliation, said officials.
In March, the House passed the VA Accountability First Act (H.R. 1259). S. 1094 resolves the differences between the House bill and the Senate’s version. The bill is now sent to President Trump’s desk for his signature.
Whistleblowers exposed negligence and mismanagement at the federal agency in 2014, when CNN reported that employees hid patients on unofficial waiting lists to meet performance standards and collect bonuses. At a Phoenix location, more than a dozen veterans died before receiving appointments for treatable medical conditions, said officials.
A Senate investigation linked nearly a 1,000 vet deaths to long wait times. However, the VA has been slow to reform, since Congress passed legislation to hire more skilled personnel, build new facilities, and allow patients to seek care outside the federal health system. The bureaucracy has been resisting changes to outdated hiring and firing rules, said Rep. DesJarlais (TN-04).
“During my listening tour across the Fourth District, Tennessee veterans spoke to me about federal health care’s broken promises,” said Rep. DesJarlais. “Tennessee heroes who put their lives on the line deserve to be at the front of the line for the best care. Unfortunately, a culture of mismanagement at the VA rewards poor performance, while preventing good employees from doing their jobs.”
Nashville and Murfreesboro VA hospitals in Tennessee rank near the bottom of the department’s quality ratings.
Tuesday’s legislation (H.R. 1094) streamlines disciplinary procedures at the VA and shortens employee appeals. It authorizes the Secretary to reduce employee pay and pensions, as well as to recoup improper payments, and the bill establishes a permanent Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection to enact reforms.
New VA Secretary David Shulkin will oversee the modernization effort, which President Trump announced earlier this year in an executive order. “The biggest obstacle to veterans’ health care is overlapping bureaucracy, waste and inefficiency, that sap valuable resources and morale at the VA,” said Rep. DesJarlais, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
“We have a duty to our nation’s heroes and hardworking taxpayers to make sure Tennessee vets get prompt, quality health care. I hope this bill can be a model for future reform across government.”
The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Concerned Veterans for America and other groups support the legislation.