The Veterans Affairs Department officially fired three more senior leaders at the Phoenix VA Health Care System, the hospital where reports of wait time manipulation first started two years ago. Two of the three VA executives can appeal their removals to the Merit Systems Protection Board.
The congressionally-appointed VA Commission on Care suggested a major overhaul to the Veterans Health Administration. According to the commission’s draft report, due to Congress by the end of the month, VHA employees should have their own personnel system.
A recent decision from the Justice Department is prompting the VA to stop using the authority it has under current legislation to fire senior executives more quickly. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee said the news comes after an inquiry over whether the VA planned to make any policy changes after the DOJ decision, which ultimately ruled that a key provision in the VA Choice Act is unconstitutional.
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) outlined their concerns with the Veterans Affairs Department in a letter to Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Meanwhile, current VA Secretary Bob McDonald said Congress has been the biggest barrier to true transformation at the VA.
David Shulkin, President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Veterans Affairs Department, earned high praise from the Senate committee during his nomination hearing. Changing the department’s current Veterans Choice Program and crafting new accountability and disciplinary procedures for VA employees were common topics.
An extension and then redesign of the Veterans Choice Program, along with new employee accountability legislation, are top priorities for new Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. He said he’s working with Congress on new legislation to support those initiatives.
If the 114th Congress was about dissecting the Veterans Affairs Department’s challenges, then the 115th Congress will act quickly to solve them, leadership on the House Veterans Affairs Committee said.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld an appeal from Sharon Helman, the former director of the beleaguered Veterans Affairs medical center in Phoenix, Arizona, who was fired in 2014. The court said a key provision that lets VA more quickly fire and discipline senior executives is unconstitutional. The Merit Systems Protection Board will review the original decision an administrative judge made regarding Helman’s removal.
The Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which senators introduced last week, may have more momentum than previous bills. It now has 12 co-sponsors, including four Democrats and VA Secretary David Shulkin himself. Yet some federal employee groups and experts question whether the new bill has the teeth to truly tackle long entrenched cultural problems at the department.
Senators have two very different proposals to redesign the Veterans Choice Program. Both pieces of legislation represent very different ideologies and sides of a debate that Congress, the Veterans Affairs Department, veterans service organizations and federal employee groups have been having for the past three years.