One year ago this month, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric ShinsekiEric Ken ShinsekiFormer VA secretaries propose National Warrior Call Day to raise military suicide awareness Why aren't more Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Biden's Cabinet? Biden VA pick faces 'steep learning curve' at massive agency MORE resigned following a series of scandals exposing management failures, fraud and corruption throughout the department he led. It was an honorable step taken to allow new leadership to begin repairing what had gone so wrong at the dysfunctional department.  

Little did we know, as the New York Times recently reported, that Shinseki would be virtually the only VA employee to face repercussions for the scandals. One year later, not only have things failed to improve—they’ve grown worse. In fact, only a handful of VA executives have been removed from their job—and none fired for cause for the wait list scandal. 


It is painfully clear that the dynamic will not change at the VA until the department embraces an ethic of true accountability for failing and underperforming workers. A new bipartisan reform effort in Congress, led by House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), is a step in that direction.  

Even longtime critics were taken aback when department whistleblowers revealed in April 2014 how veterans in VA hospitals were kept on secret waiting lists and denied care from doctors for months, while department officials pocketed hefty bonuses for “performance.” What has been even more shocking, though, has been to learn how deep the rot goes.  

Day after day, we continue to see a relentless stream of new revelations of VA failures, abuse and shoddy service to veterans. Unfortunately, very little has changed at VA. How has such a toxic culture arisen in the second-largest federal department? The answer is that this is what happens in a culture where there are no consequences for misconduct or poor performance. It’s time for real accountability at the VA.  

Last summer, Congress passed a landmark VA reform bill that included stronger accountability provisions empowering the VA secretary to fire senior employees who failed to perform. President Obama signed that bill into law in August with great fanfare.  

It’s now clear those reforms did not go far enough. Congress should take the next logical step to expand this firing authority to all VA employees, not just senior executives. Only when those at the top, middle, and bottom are held to the same simple and fair standard of basic accountability can the culture start to change.

Miller’s bill, the VA Accountability Act, would do just that, by giving the secretary authority to immediately remove any employee who is guilty of misconduct and shortening the amount of time to appeal that firing. This last part is needed to ensure that fired employees don’t milk the appeals system for months upon months of paid leave. 

“It’s wrong that it takes this long to fire people responsible for poor treatment of veterans,” Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona said in an April 30 news conference in Washington, D.C. “We have to change the system and the culture. Bad actors should be held accountable, and those doing good work should be commended.”  

VA Secretary Robert McDonald claims he’s working to get rid of bad employees, but that Congress needs to change the law to allow it to happen more quickly. Should the VA Accountability Act be passed into law, McDonald and his leadership team will have no excuses for dragging their feet.  

Once these reforms are in place, Congress and veterans organizations should watchdog the implementation to ensure the accountability provisions are put to work as intended. The VA has a history of poor execution when it comes to reform, and should be held to account in making these changes a reality.

Nor should Obama get a free pass—thus far, his administration has offered little more than lofty talk about the need for reform, rather than results. This failure has been particularly disappointing, given how assertive officials were last year in promising change.  

“This [i.e., VA reform] is going to be a slow grind,” a senior administration official told The New York Times in a May 31, 2014, story. “A lot of the problems, they are not just systemic, but they are chronic. It’s like, roll up your sleeves, start digging into the culture and get rid of people who are impeding necessary change.” 

Government employee unions can be expected to oppose these accountability measures. But their opposition amounts to little more than a reactive defense of poor performers and excuses for official misconduct.  

That opposition means members of Congress will have a choice: They can choose to honor the basic dignity of veterans who have served this nation in uniform by supporting accountability. Or they can elect to allow corrupt and abusive employees to remain on the government payroll in perpetuity, without facing consequences for misconduct.  

But there is no way to choose both—so it’s time to roll up your sleeves and choose the side of accountability.

Hegseth is the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America and a Fox News contributor. A U.S Army infantry veteran, he served tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay.