Senate backs bill making it easier to fire VA employees
© Getty Images

The Senate easily approved legislation on Tuesday making it easier to fire Department of Veterans Affairs employees.  

The bill, which passed by a voice vote, would speed up how quickly VA Secretary David Shulkin could fire senior and rank-and-file employees, and allow the VA to take back bonuses if an employee is convicted of a job-related felony.

"[This is] the strongest accountability measure of the V.A. that can be signed into law, which means we're reaching into every corner of the problems at the VA that exists over the last years. We're making sure we make the corrections necessary to make the V.A. an accountable organization," said Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonOvernight Defense: Questions mount over Trump's Iran tweet | House, Senate unveil compromise defense bill | Bill includes Russia sanctions waivers, limits on Turkey's access to F-35 | Endangered species measures dropped Senate confirms Trump's VA pick despite opposition from some Dems This week: House GOP heads for the exit MORE (R-Ga.), who oversees the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

Under the legislation, Shulkin would be able to reprimand or fire senior executive employees as part of a 21-day process, while rank-and-file employees who appealed their firing would have up to 180 days.

ADVERTISEMENT

It would also allow the VA to take back an employee bonus or reduce a former employee's pension, a move senators argue will help make sure the department isn't on the hook to continue paying convicted employees.

"If you’re not doing your job, then you shouldn’t be paid, and if there is anywhere that this should be enforced – it’s the VA," Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThe farm bill gives Congress a chance to act on the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act GOP’s midterm strategy takes shape Battle of the billionaires drives Nevada contest MORE (R-Nev.) said in a statement.

Lawmakers have been locked in a debate over how the VA secretary can best manage – and quickly remove – employees.

The legislation comes roughly three years after then-VA Secretary Eric ShinsekiEric Ken ShinsekiSenate confirms Trump's VA pick despite opposition from some Dems Trump VA pick boosts hopes for reform Trump VA pick faces challenge to convince senators he’s ready for job MORE resigned amid a wide-reaching scandal involving VA employees manipulating data to downplay how long veterans were waiting for medical appointments.

The bill now heads to the House. Reps. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.), the top members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, both backed the House passing the bill.

"I look forward to getting this legislation to the president’s desk so we can give Secretary Shulkin the tools he needs to hold bad actors accountable and bring wholesale reform to the Department of Veterans Affairs," Roe said in a statement.