The Department of Veterans Affairs has a responsibility to serve and care for veterans. But too often, the VA puts its own needs ahead of veterans.
We’ve seen this play out over and over again when the VA doesn’t properly hold its staff accountable or bows to the wishes of unions over the needs of its patients.
To combat this problem, members of Congress have introduced the Restore VA Accountability Act in both the Senate and House of Representatives. This bill would restate Congress’ position on holding VA staff accountable for how they deliver care to veterans, while giving the VA the authorities it needs to fire and discipline poor performers.
Of course, the bill’s introduction has been met with some misleading information, so let’s get the details straight.
Here’s a look at some of the myths and facts about VA accountability the Restore VA Accountability Act.
Myth: The Restore VA Accountability Act isn’t necessary. It’s just a partisan bill without much support.
Fact: Tell that to veterans all over the country complaining about poor care and communication at their local VA, or to the VA staff being harassed by coworkers that the VA can’t or won’t fire.
Accountability is always necessary. VA staff has a mission and a responsibility to care for America’s veterans; veterans should be the priority, not the VA bureaucracy.
The VA has accountability tools at its disposal, which it has refused to use effectively, if at all. More on that to come. But a restatement of accountability expectations from Congress, which is at the heart of the Restore VA Accountability Act, is certainly necessary.
The Restore VA Accountability Act has a wide range of support from veterans organizations including Concerned Veterans for America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the American Legion.
Myth: The Restore VA Accountability Act would take away VA supervisory employees’ workplace rights.
Fact: VA supervisors will still have workplace protections.
The Restore VA Accountability Act strengthens the VA’s ability to fire bad employees, but with due diligence requirements for the VA when considering a disciplinary action. Those requirements include:
- A factfinder concluding a disciplinary action is necessary after review based on substantial evidence, the nature of the offense, the employee’s past record, and other factors.
- The VA secretary or a designee agree with the decision
- Protection for those who have made whistleblower disclosures
- Provision of the evidence against them to the employee
- A grievance and appeal process
That doesn’t sound like a violation of workplace protections.
Myth: The Restore VA Accountability Act isn’t going to make much of a difference. The 2017 accountability bill didn’t affect the VA’s ability to discipline poor employees.
Fact: The 2017 VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act was a huge step in the right direction for establishing a culture of accountability.
The problem isn’t with whether the law helped VA to fire employees, but whether the VA has used the law effectively. On that front, it has not.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough testified earlier this year that the VA has stopped using the firing authorities granted to it in the 2017 accountability law.
Of course, the authorities aren’t going to make a difference if you aren’t using them.
Myth: The Restore VA Accountability Act is just another GOP, anti-union bill.
Fact: Accountability for bad employees at the VA isn’t a Republican vs. Democrat thing. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
Members of different parties and political ideologies should all be focused on veterans as the priority at the VA. To be pro-veteran should not be misconstrued as being anti-VA or anti-union.
Further, when the Phoenix VA scandal erupted in 2014 during the Obama administration, President Barack Obama stated, with the support of Republicans and Democrats, that the VA needed the authority to remove bad employees. “If you engage in an unethical practice, if you cover up a serious problem, you should be fired. Period. It shouldn’t be that difficult.”
The Trump administration followed that lead by signing into law the 2017 accountability bill, and President Joe Biden should follow suit by strengthening accountability measures.
The Senate version of the Restore VA Accountability Act was introduced by members of both parties, and the House version hopefully will secure the same bipartisan support.
Accountability for bad employees is not the same as being “anti-union”. And in a world where fired employees are getting their jobs back at the VA, it’s necessary for both parties to take a hard look at firing practices.
Myth: The Restore VA Accountability Act would hurt VA’s ability to recruit and retain good employees, including medical professionals, and would drive the good employees out.
Fact: The Restore VA Accountability Act is a tool for the VA to use to remove poor, problematic employees, not good ones. Establishing stronger accountability measures and removing those who stand in the way of providing veterans with timely, quality care can only be a help for retaining and recruiting good employees.
On the topic of medical professionals – physicians, registered nurses, physician assistants, etc. – this bill actually doesn’t apply to them. The American Federal of Government Employees has suggested VA nurses and doctors would be affected by the accountability measures, but that isn’t accurate. The Restore VA Accountability Act explicitly excludes health care providers.
We believe that accountability could actually strengthen the VA’s ability to keep and recruit good employees as they’d be proving their commitment to serving veterans over protecting poor performers and bad actors.
Read more about the bills CVA supports that will reform the VA and put veterans first in their care.