Senate panel adopts House VA firing measure

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved language, already passed by the House, that would expedite firings at the Veterans Affairs Department amid allegations hospital mismanagement led to patient deaths.

The VA has been wracked by reports that hospital administrators have been hiding long delays on giving medical care to veterans by putting them on secret waiting lists.

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The committee's ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) blasted President Obama over the scandal Thursday.

“During his 2008 presidential campaign, then Sen. Barack Obama affirmed that, quote, ‘in an Obama administration, the VA will provide benefits and care that will be accessible, high-quality, reliable, responsive and fair, year after year,’ end quote,” Shelby said.

“Let me be clear: This kind of reported misconduct at the VA is unforgivable. It is unacceptable," he added. "And, it is just plain wrong.”

The House on Wednesday approved a bill by a 390-33 vote that would give the VA secretary new powers to fire or demote senior executives at the department. 

Senate appropriators adopted an amendment sponsored by Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) that puts the language of the House bill into the VA’s 2015 spending bill.

The only objection to the language came from Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) who worried it did not have enough due process provisions. He said the bill could make it hard for the VA to attract high-quality managers.

The bill also freezes bonuses for senior executives, until an inspector general’s report on the waiting lists is completed, and the VA produces an action plan to address the issue. The bill provides $5 million for the investigation.

The spending bill was reported out of the panel on Thursday on a 30-0 vote.