WASHINGTON – Over Veterans Day weekend, U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) penned an op-ed in the Washington Examiner about the critical need to ensure our veterans have the best healthcare possible. In the piece, Coach Tuberville explains why he is supporting the Restore VA Accountability Act of 2023 to create transparency at the VA.
Excerpts can be found below and the entire op-ed can be found here.
“Taking care of our veterans is a sacred duty. In Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, he resolved our nation to “care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.” President Lincoln’s statement has carried through the generations and led to the establishment of the Veterans Administration nearly 100 years ago…
“Veterans should have the best medical care in this country, but at times they have had some of the worst. Under the Obama Administration, the Phoenix VA became embroiled in a national scandal when a number of veterans died while waiting for care—and VA employees were caught lying about it…
“When President Trump came into office, Congress passed, on a bipartisan basis, a bill called the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. This federal law gave the VA the power to fire employees for cause, including for poor performance or grievous misconduct. This led to the firing of more than 5,000 VA employees who weren’t doing their jobs…
“The Biden Administration has reached a lawsuit settlement in which the VA has agreed to stop using the firing authority that Congress gave them. The law is still on the books, but now the Biden Administration has promised not to use it…
“That’s why I have joined legislation in the United States Senate to restore the VA Accountability Act to its full Trump-era strength. Our legislation would cut bureaucratic red tape to allow VA leaders to discipline employees who aren’t doing their jobs…
“Most VA employees do their jobs every day—and we are thankful for them. But we saw in the Obama years that it only takes a few bad actors to lead to long waiting lists and even veterans dying while waiting in line. It’s time for the Senate to pass this legislation into law before all of the improvements made at the VA under President Trump are lost…”
The bipartisan Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 gave the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) the ability to hold employees accountable through a new authority—widely referred to as Section 714 authority—that allowed for the expedited removal, demotion, or suspension of employees for poor performance or misconduct. Senators Rubio and Tester, with 39 bipartisan cosponsors, developed the Act in response to the Phoenix VA wait list crisis and the ensuing lack of accountability for the VA employees involved in the willful misconduct that may have contributed to the deaths of veterans waiting for care.
Examples of dereliction of duty reported by Trump Administration before the Enactment of the VA Accountability Act in June 2017:
- An employee at a VA facility in Memphis, Tennessee returned to work after three DUI convictions.
- An employee at a VA facility in Puerto Rico was involved in an armed robbery, but returned to work as a clerk at the facility after pleading guilty to two misdemeanors.
- An employee continued to work after video caught him watching pornography with a patient and a top administrator.
Passage of the VA Accountability Act of 2017 allowed VA to cut through cumbersome bureaucratic processes to hold bad employees accountable in an expedited manner, providing VA employees with a healthier workplace, and rapidly increasing veterans’ trust in VA.
The VA decided to no longer utilize Section 714 authority as of April 3, 2023, allowing VA workers who were dismissed of duties with cause to return to their positions. Before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee in March, VA Secretary McDonough testified, “Section 714 wasn’t really helping us necessarily manage our workforce as much as it was getting us in front of federal judges and in front of administrative bodies.” He further stated, “in all cases we do think we have what we need to manage our authorities outside” the 2017 law.
The bipartisan Restore VA Accountability Act of 2023 would restore accountability for the VA while protecting whistleblowers. Specifically, the legislation would:
- Ensure VA decisions supported by substantial evidence are upheld on appeal.
- Negate the requirement for a performance improvement plan prior to disciplinary action.
- Unlock expedited removal, demotion or suspension authority for use with all categories of VA employees.
- Align the disciplinary authority for unsatisfactory VA managers and supervisors with the process currently in place for members of the Senior Executive Service.
Senator Tommy Tuberville represents Alabama in the United States Senate and is a member of the Senate Armed Services, Agriculture, Veterans’ Affairs, and HELP Committees.