Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Veterans celebrate VA accountability bill as a promise kept

6/25/17
from Star & Stripes,
6/22/17:

Mike and Sarah Verardo had a reason to be angry with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Mike Verardo, a retired Army sergeant who volunteered for the infantry, stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2010 and lost his left leg. He spent three years in military hospitals and returned home in 2013. When transferred to VA care, he waited 57 days for his prosthetic to be repaired, with no backup, and even longer for a neurological appointment, Sarah Verardo said. “The buck kept getting passed,” she said. “I was very frustrated.” Last year, the Verardos heard something in then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign message that resonated with them. He promised to fire “corrupt” and “incompetent” VA workers who “let our veterans down.”

To the Verardos, the moment will signal a promise kept. “We’ve been fighting for VA reform and accountability, and we feel that it was championed under candidate Trump. We got to know him, his family, and learned how important VA reform was to him,” Sarah Verardo said. “We are really excited. I’m so relieved and glad to see this.” After three years of attempting to pass similar legislation, Congress sent the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 to Trump on June 13. Shulkin, many veterans and other supporters of the bill said it will serve to root out poor-performing employees and a perceived culture of corruption in the department, which is the government’s second-largest with approximately 350,000 people on its payroll.

More than a dozen large veterans groups spoke in support of the bill. Under the current disciplinary process, it takes an average 51 days to remove an employee, largely due to a 30-day notice period, Shulkin said. The legislation would cut the 30-day advance notice to 10 days. It would also speed up the process that employees use to appeal any disciplinary action against them. It lessens the evidentiary standards required to fire an employee and it allows the VA secretary to recoup bonuses and relocation expenses in certain instances. It also allows the VA secretary to directly appoint directors to lead VA hospitals and integrated service networks, instead of going through lengthy hiring processes.

Democrats and Republicans celebrated its passage. Federal unions, however, remain worried. J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, a federal union representing about 220,000 VA employees, has said federal public servants are “under constant attack.” At past hearings, he told lawmakers that the new firing process could lead to at-will removal of VA employees and dampen morale. Shulkin has argued against those claims and he said the bill was a necessary fix to a “broken” system that has delayed disciplinary action.

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