U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., announced on Thursday that he will be the Senate sponsor of the VA Accountability Act of 2015. U.S Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, introduced the bill earlier on Thursday.
The legislation gives the VA secretary more authority to fire employees while still giving the employee the right to appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board. The bill also gives some protection to whistle-blowers and extends the probationary period for new employees from a year to 18 months. Under the proposal, the Government Accountability Office would look at how much VA resources, including space, are used for labor union activities.
Veterans groups, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Concerned Veterans for America lined up behind Millers proposal on Thursday.
Rubio expressed support for the bill earlier on Thursday before introducing the Senate counterpart later in the day. With both Rubio and Miller leading the charge, Congress passed a reform measure last year after reports emerged about veterans dying after being placed on altered waiting lists while seeking medical treatment from VA facilities. The New York Times had a story earlier this week on how few VA employees lost their jobs after the scandal broke though then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned his post under fire.
I was proud to lead the effort to give the VA secretary the authority to fire senior executives based on performance, but its clear additional authorities are needed to deal with the full scope of the problems at the VA, said Rubio on Thursday. This new legislation will leave the VA secretary with no excuse but to hold those responsible for the dysfunction and incompetence plaguing our VA system accountable for their actions while protecting whistle-blowers from retaliation. We must show our veterans the respect they have earned by removing any employees with terrible performance from the system our veterans rely on.
Both Rubio and Miller are currently in the political spotlight. Rubio is running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. With Rubio not expected to run for a second term in the Senate, Miller is a possible candidate to replace him and opened the door earlier this week to a 2016 campaign.
Rubio is not the only Republican in the presidential mix to weigh in on the issue. On Thursday, former Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, took aim at the Obama administration's handling of the VA.
"It is outrageous that the Obama administration has not held people accountable for manipulating wait times in VA hospitals after promising to take action against those implicated in the scandal, Perry said on Thursday. We owe so much to the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our nation, and it is imperative we do better to ensure that our nation's heroes get the care and treatment they rightfully deserve.
Perry ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 and is looking at a second bid in 2016.
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