WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) yesterday questioned the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Chief Human Capital Officer Tracey Therit about the department’s decision to stop following the bipartisan VA Accountability Act, which allows firing of employees for cause.
Championed by former President Donald Trump as part of his plan to reform the VA, the VA Accountability Act passed with overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate. It hasallowed the VA to fire more than 4,000 employees who were neglecting to provide swift and safe care to veterans.
As Alabama’s voice on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC), Senator Tuberville has advocated for targeted changes to the VA to improve quality of care for America’s veterans. Two of his bills—the Supporting Families of the Fallen Act and legislation to streamline Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits—were signed into law by President Biden last year.
Excerpts from Senator Tuberville’s remarks can be found below and his full remarks can be viewed here.
ON IMPORTANCE OF REMOVING POOR VA EMPLOYEES
TUBERVILLE: “It’s our sacred duty to take care of our veterans. I believe most people at the VA try to do that every day… But the fact is, we’ve had some abuses going on for a long time. And we all know that… During the Obama years, we had veterans dying on waiting lists. VA employees lied to cover it up. It was horrible.”
TUBERVILLE: “When President Trump took office, he addressed this problem head-on. A bipartisan Congress passed the VA Accountability Act. It passed by voice vote in the Senate and overwhelmingly in the House [of Representatives]. It allowed the VA to fire 4,000 employees. Now, I wasn’t here when that happened. But that’s just amazing to me, 4,000 people were fired for basically not doing their jobs…”
TUBERVILLE: “These people have no business getting a paycheck from the taxpayer. It’s absolutely—it’s criminal. This law is still on the books. But for some reason, somebody has reached a settlement with trial lawyers and we’re not enforcing it anymore. The law is still on the books. That’s not how our Constitution works the last time I looked at it.”
“The VA system is the largest healthcare system in the world. And it’s hard. Now, in my state of Alabama, we had 74 people who were fired for cause. Not laid off—and now they’re getting their jobs back. And I’ve heard some horror stories about what some of them did. And it’s embarrassing to me, now, to talk to veterans about the situations that we got ourself in, trying to get ourself out…it’s no secret that it’s getting worse, and we can’t continue to do this.”
ON WHY THE VA ISN’T ENFORCING VA ACCOUNTABILITY ACT
TUBERVILLE: “Ms. Therit, I want to believe that the VA is hiring only the best and brightest employees… to serve our veterans. But, as many of us have discussed since I’ve been here for three years, we know not everybody in the VA is going to be exactly what we want. How does the VA plan to protect its veteran patients from this grievous misconduct if we’re not going to go by this Accountability Act?”
THERIT: “Senator Tuberville, I acknowledge that we want the best working at the VA…I do acknowledge and don’t want any views on these bills to indicate that we are happy with the status quo, where we don’t see opportunity to improve and do better. We know there are still inconsistencies in how actions are executed in the field. We know that things still take too long, and that’s why we want to work with this committee on something like the LEAD Act where we can look at policies and procedures that we take prior to proposing an action to make sure that we have evidence—as the chairman had mentioned—that is thorough, that is timely, that affords employees due process so at the end of the day we are able to remove those employees that should not be working for the VA.”
TUBERVILLE: “These 4,000—will we have any special kind of oversight? They did something wrong at the beginning. You know what I’m saying. Somebody’s got to be held accountable. Because if this happens again, people lose their lives—I mean my goodness.”
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.
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.