U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has renewed his fight to reform the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.
Rubio teamed up with U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., to bring out the “Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act" which would “reform the VA by allowing the secretary to dismiss bad employees, and ensure appropriate due process protections for whistleblowers.”
Under the proposal, the VA secretary would have more power to remove or demote under performing and incompetent employees while giving whistleblowers more protection, including creating the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection in the VA. The bill would also ensure more accountability in the VA medical system, giving the VA secretary the ability to
“directly appoint individuals to the positions of Medical Center Director and Director of Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) if they have demonstrated ability in the medical profession, health care administration, or health care fiscal management."
Rubio made the case on Thursday for why the bill was needed.
“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,” said Rubio. “This legislation would improve on the law we enacted in 2014, and I’m grateful to Chairman Isakson and Ranking Member Tester for working with us to craft a bill that will protect whistleblowers and the many VA employees who are passionate about caring for our veterans, while also empowering the VA to hold bad employees accountable. We must make real changes that put the well-being of our servicemembers before the best interests of bureaucrats.”
“When the VA cannot hold bad actors accountable, everyone loses,” said Isakson, who chairs the U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. “Taxpayer dollars are wasted on employees who are not fully committed to helping our veterans. Other employees at the VA suffer because they are forced to work alongside or take direction from delinquent individuals. Most egregiously, our veterans suffer because the people responsible for caring for them are putting themselves first – not our veterans. I am proud to introduce this bipartisan measure that 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.”
“This bipartisan bill will hold bad employees accountable while protecting the hardworking folks who care for our veterans,” said Tester, who is the ranking Democrat on the committee. “The challenges at the VA are many, but tough problems require commonsense solutions and this bipartisan bill is a product of what happens when you put aside politics and work together. I want to thank Chairman Isakson and Senator Rubio for working hard to make the VA stronger and ensure it can better deliver for veterans.”
Other Senate co-sponsors include U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
Reforming the VA is not a new subject for Rubio who reintroduced his “VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act” at the start of the year. Back in July, Rubio teamed up with then U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., who was serving as the chairman of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, to bring out the bill last summer. That bill adds more “protections for whistleblowers,” would “increase flexibility to remove VA employees for poor performance or misconduct” and “reform the department’s disability benefits appeals process.” The proposal also closes loopholes from the “VA Accountability Act” from Miller and Rubio which passed the House in 2015 but stalled in the Senate.