Over one year after Americans awoke to headlines revealing that veterans died while waiting for care on secret Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) waitlists, little has changed to safeguard against future scandals.
Recently, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPut partisan politics aside — The Child Tax Credit must be renewed immediately These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine MORE (R-Fla.) called up his version of the VA Accountability Act (an iteration similar to a bill the House passed back in July) to be considered on the Senate floor. The bill would give VA Secretary Bob McDonald the authority to fire any VA employee who engages in serious wrongdoing and misconduct and includes a provision to protect whistleblowers who report problems within the agency. The legislation was unfortunately blocked on the Senate floor by Democrats, who are concerned that the bill does not include enough protections for VA employees.
This is not good news for the vast majority of the VA workers who are doing their jobs properly and are sincerely dedicated to serving our veterans. To the contrary, this is good news for labor unions and the "bad apple" employees who rely on them to keep their jobs despite serious violations of law and ethics. These opponents of this accountability reform bill continue to argue that allowing the VA secretary to more easily fire the worst of the worst VA employees will negatively impact recruiting at VA.
Following the healthcare waitlist scandal that broke last summer at the Phoenix VA Medical Center, Congress took swift action and passed a new expedited firing authority that the VA secretary may now use to terminate high-level executives. But the majority of VA employees, including most of those who were directly responsible for some of the most egregious wrongdoing, remained exempt and protected by excessive union-backed protections and bureaucratic roadblocks to responsibility.
It has been more than a year since President Obama publicly expressed outrage over the VA waitlist scandal and declared that it should not be so hard to fire bad government employees. Yet the White House has issued a veto threat of the House-passed VA Accountability Act (H.R. 1994), citing union arguments that mention VA "workers" many more times than it mentions "veterans."
The time has come to finally and emphatically support veterans over the powerful labor unions and the few bad employees who cause most of the problems — including veterans' deaths — at the VA. The time has come for every senator to support Sen. Rubio's VA Accountability Act, for the Senate to unanimously pass this bill and for President Obama to enthusiastically sign it into law.
Neiweem, an Iraq War veteran, is a vice president at the Washington D.C.-based political advisory firm SRB Strategic.