Lawmakers move to establish new VA office ordered by Trump

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Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) on Thursday introduced a bill that would legally establish the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection.

The bipartisan Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act “will establish in law this newly created office,” which would allow VA Secretary David Shulkin to more easily dismiss poorly performing employees and protect whistleblowers, according to the bill’s announcement.

President Trump late last month signed an executive order to create the office.

“When the VA cannot hold bad actors accountable, everyone loses,” Isakson, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman, said in the announcement.

{mosads}“Taxpayer dollars are wasted on employees who are not fully committed to helping our veterans. … this bipartisan measure will help create a culture of accountability at the VA by giving Secretary Shulkin the tools necessary to discipline bad employees in a timely manner while protecting whistleblowers from the threat of retaliation and ensuring the quality of care that our veterans receive at the VA.”

The VA has been criticized for years for failing to quickly fire problematic employees. The new bill seeks to change that by increasing the VA’s authority to remove employees at all levels of the department, shortening the removal process and making sure individuals removed are not kept on the VA’s payroll while appealing the decision, the announcement says.

The act would also make it easier for the VA to replace lackluster senior executives, require the department to evaluate supervisors based on the protection of whistleblowers, prohibit bonuses to employees who have been found guilty of wrongdoing and prohibit relocation expenses to employees who abuse the system.

The bill was co-sponsored by the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.), as well as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

“To fully reform the VA and provide our nation’s veterans with the quality care they were promised and deserve, we must ensure the department can efficiently dismiss employees who are not able or willing to do their jobs,” Rubio said in the announcement. “We must make real changes that put the well-being of our service members before the best interests of bureaucrats.”

The bill is part of a series of new legislation attempting to overhaul the long-criticized VA. Isakson last week introduced the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, which seeks to cut years off wait times for veterans appealing an initial decision made by the Veterans Benefits Administration on their claims for VA benefits.

Tags Johnny Isakson Jon Tester Marco Rubio
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