U.S. Representative Scott DesJarlais, M.D., voted for the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 to improve employee accountability and protect whistleblowers at the VA.
Whistleblowers exposed negligence and mismanagement at the federal agency in 2014, when CNN reported that employees hid patients on unofficial waiting lists to meet performance standards and collect bonuses. At a Phoenix location, more than a dozen veterans died before receiving appointments for treatable medical conditions.
A Senate investigation linked nearly a thousand vet deaths to long wait times. However, the VA has been slow to reform, since Congress passed legislation to hire more skilled personnel, build new facilities, and allow patients to seek care outside the federal health system. The bureaucracy has been resisting changes to outdated hiring and firing rules, said Rep. DesJarlais (TN-04).
"During my listening tour across the Fourth District, Tennessee veterans spoke to me about federal health care's broken promises," he said. "Tennessee heroes who put their lives on the line deserve to be at the front of the line for the best care. Unfortunately, a culture of mismanagement at the VA rewards poor performance, while preventing good employees from doing their jobs."
Nashville and Murfreesboro VA hospitals in Tennessee rank near the bottom of the department's quality ratings.
Tuesday's legislation (H.R. 1094), which the Senate approved and the President will sign soon, streamlines disciplinary procedures at the VA and shortens employee appeals. It authorizes the Secretary to reduce employee pay and pensions, as well as to recoup improper payments, and the bill establishes a permanent Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection to enact reforms.
New VA Secretary David Shulkin will oversee the modernization effort, which President Trump announced earlier this year in an executive order. "The biggest obstacle to veterans' health care is overlapping bureaucracy, waste and inefficiency, that sap valuable resources and morale at the VA," said Rep. DesJarlais, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
"We have a duty to our nation's heroes and hardworking taxpayers to make sure Tennessee vets get prompt, quality health care. I hope this bill can be a model for future reform across government."
The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Concerned Veterans for America and other groups support the legislation.