Accounting for bad management: The VA Accountability Act turns one
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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 RoeThe nation needs to do more to reduce veteran suicide The Hill's 12:30 Report: State of the Union takeaways | Sights and sounds from the night | Virginia attorney general admits he wore blackface Activist who met with GOP lawmakers also promotes ‘black violence’ gene: report 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 TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure 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. FitzpatrickHere are the eight Republicans who voted with Democrats on the Equality Act House approves anti-LGBT discrimination Equality Act This week: House to vote on bill to ban LGBTQ discrimination 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) TesterGOP angst grows amid Trump trade war Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to border wall | Dems blast move | House Dem pushes Pelosi to sue over Trump's Yemen veto Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to Trump border wall from Afghan forces, other accounts MORE (D-Mont.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOn The Money: Judge upholds House subpoena for Trump financial records | Trump vows to appeal ruling by 'Obama-appointed judge' | Canada, Mexico lift retaliatory tariffs on US | IRS audit rate falls Lawmakers grapple with the future of America's workforce The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Restrictive state abortion laws ignite fiery 2020 debate MORE (D-Ohio), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinThis week: House to vote on bill to ban LGBTQ discrimination Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to border wall | Dems blast move | House Dem pushes Pelosi to sue over Trump's Yemen veto Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to Trump border wall from Afghan forces, other accounts 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).