Accounting for bad management: The VA Accountability Act turns one
© Getty Images

When a system is struggling because of a lack of funding, lack of personnel, and an exponentially larger task at hand, you’re left with a few options to course correct. You can either invest and build out the system, or you can attack the employees as an excuse to tear it down for something new.

And as we have now reached the one-year anniversary of the Accountability Act’s passing, I think it’s important to see how partisan insiders have inched closer to the latter, putting them one step closer to dismantling the country’s largest and most important health care system so it can be auctioned off to the private sector.


Some on Capitol Hill, including House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Phil RoeDavid (Phil) Phillip RoeActivist who met with GOP lawmakers also promotes ‘black violence’ gene: report GOP lawmaker to be challenged by Dem he delivered as a newborn After 30 years, it’s time to rethink VA’s Cabinet department status MORE (R-Tenn.), laugh off accusations of privatization efforts, but the numbers they spew and the story they tell just doesn’t add up. First, and perhaps most important, is to set the record straight on the VA’s budget and staffing levels.

Roe has said in official VA statements, in the press, and again at a July 17 hearing that the VA’s budget has more than doubled since he came to Washington, and so has staffing. In repeating this misleading narrative, Roe is choosing to ignore: the enormous diversion of VA dollars to pay for the high cost, inferior “Choice” program, the cost of inflation, 6 million more veteran patients in the system, rising prescription drug costs, and 2 million more veterans with service connected disabilities.

Clearly, it’s a smoke screen for the administration’s agenda to starve and destroy government health care and it’s providing cover to one of the biggest threats unfolding in front of our eyes, the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017.

The Accountability Act was billed as a way to remove bad managers and supervisors causing problems at the VA. But, it has actually had nearly the opposite effect. After implementation at the VA, the “accountability” law has allowed managers to run amok. They’re using the legislation to fire disabled veterans, silence and retaliate against whistleblowers, and divert attention from their failure to hold supervisors – who are the root cause of problems at the VA – accountable.

Just last month, the department released its quarterly update on the Accountability Act, and the numbers were harrowing. So far, using the act, 2,558 workers at the VA have been fired. Not even 1 percent were supervisors.

Instead, we’ve seen hundreds of housekeeping aides, nursing assistants, food service workers, and medical support assistants – most all of whom earn less than $40,000 a year – lose their job. Nearly 40 percent of VA employees are veterans, and many of those veterans have service-connected disabilities; which means President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump directed Cohen to lie to Congress about plans to build Trump Tower in Moscow during 2016 campaign: report DC train system losing 0k per day during government shutdown Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees MORE is gleefully telling crowds he’s responsible for more than 1,000 veterans being fired.

And while I wish that was the extent of how poorly this law is being implemented, we already know that’s not the case.

One June 20, NPR ran a story about VA employees in Alabama who have faced retaliation and intimidation from management for attempting to blow the whistle on malfeasance. Whistleblowers are the ones who let us know about huge waitlists at the VA while managers recouped large bonuses. Whistleblowers are the ones who alerted us to Legionnaires outbreaks and shortages of doctors. Whistleblowers are supposed to be protected. But thanks to President Trump and his allies in Congress, managers now have freer rein to defraud veterans and taxpayers alike, all while silencing anyone who stands in their way.

 Thankfully, help may be on the way.

One June 14, a bipartisan group of legislators led by Rep. Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickLatest funding bill to reopen the government fails in House GOP maps out early 2020 strategy to retake House A rare display of real political courage MORE (D-Pa.) introduced H.R. 6101, the VA Personnel Equity Act of 2018 to repeal the misused Accountability Act and restore due process and collective bargaining rights to the 360,000 working people at the VA. Sharing the concerns of Fitzpatrick and other bill sponsors, Sens. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Dems offer measure to raise minimum wage to per hour Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party MORE (D-Mont.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Day 27 of the shutdown | Cohen reportedly paid company to rig online polls, boost his own image | Atlantic publishes ‘Impeach Donald Trump’ cover story Not your ‘grandfather’s’ campaign: 2020 Dems look to stand out in crowded race Centrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter MORE (D-Ohio), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne Baldwin116th Congress breaks records for women, minority lawmakers Kyrsten Sinema swears in to Congress using copy of Constitution instead of religious book Dems say Trump is defying court order by pushing abstinence programs MORE (D-Wis.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), called for an investigation into the implementation of the Accountability Act. According to the senators, the VA is unable to “demonstrate in any way that implementation has been consistent, fair, and appropriate.” which isn’t news to the men and women who work at the VA but comes as a welcome addition to our fight.

At a time when the VA is having precious funding funneled to private, for-profit corporations and is facing more than 49,000 vacancies nationwide, a fight over protecting decades-old due process and collective bargaining rights at work should not be happening. We should be focusing on how to hire more people so we can keep providing the highest level of care we can to our veterans. Firing workers and spinning a story about staffing and budgetary figures does nothing to improve veterans’ care or their access to it. I just hope Congress wises up and starts prioritizing our veterans’ care before it’s too late.

J. David Cox Sr. is nation president of American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).