Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the military, as well as more than 750,000 veterans. As chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and U.S. senator from Georgia, I am committed to helping ensure that our veterans who have borne the battle receive quality care they can count on.
As a committee, we have been working diligently with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. David Shulkin and with the U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to tackle the problems that have persisted throughout the VA. Legislation to improve access to care in the community, and modernize the appeals process for veterans seeking disability benefits, are underway.
I was proud to introduce the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act so bad actors at the VA do not get in the way of the delivery of quality care and timely benefits. On June 6, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on this bipartisan legislation that will give the VA the tools it needs to hold all of its employees accountable, to improve veterans’ health care and to foster an environment that attracts the best possible employees.
When bureaucratic and burdensome rules prevent the VA from holding bad actors accountable, everyone loses. Taxpayer dollars are wasted on employees who are not fully committed to serving our veterans. Other employees at the VA suffer because they are forced to work alongside or take direction from delinquent individuals.
In April, I stood by President Trump and Secretary Shulkin as they took administrative action to improve accountability at the VA by creating an Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection. This is a positive step toward righting the ship at the VA, but Congress must continue to make real reforms to the way the VA disciplines its employees who jeopardize veterans’ care. Not only must the VA have the tools to identify the bad actors, it also must have the ability to remove them from the department as quickly as possible.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act does just that. It also ensures that an individual who is removed from the VA after being found guilty of wrongdoing is not kept on the VA’s payroll if they choose to appeal that decision.
The bill also makes it easier for the VA to remove poorly performing senior executives. Those in leadership positions should be held to a higher standard, but are too often overlooked by the system.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act also prohibits the VA from awarding bonuses to bad actors. This is a no-brainer decision to the average American, but awarding bonuses to delinquent employees unfortunately has been common practice for too long at the VA.
VA employees see firsthand what is happening where they work. When they see something or someone getting in the way of care for our veterans, this legislation fosters a safe environment for them to come forward with that information.
As Secretary Shulkin stated in his first “State of the VA” address, legislation is needed to change the burdensome process that exists to hold employees accountable. By changing this process, we can begin to truly change the culture at the VA.
I am grateful for the work of U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Jon Tester on this important legislation, as well as for the support from our 25 Senate cosponsors. Our veterans deserve a VA that is accountable to them, and I urge my colleagues to pass this key reform legislation and get it to the president’s desk as quickly as possible.
Our veterans are counting on it.
The writer has represented Georgia in the U.S. Senate since 2005.