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Senators reach compromise on VA reform bill

Jun. 5, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
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Sens. John McCain and Bernie Sanders have reached compromise on legislation intended to address problems at VA. (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

The secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department would still be able to fire senior executives under compromise VA reform legislation that a group of senators unveiled June 5.

Senators Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and John McCain, R-Ariz., have outlined compromise legislation combining several bills that would authorize $500 million for new doctors and nurses at the VA and allow the agency to enter into 28 new major medical leases across the country. The legislation is also supported by Senators Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Richard Burr, R-N.C.

The bill would also allow veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility to be able to go to private health care provider under the supervision of the VA. The program would be authorized for two years.

But the bill retains provisions allowing the VA secretary to fire members of the senior executive service, albeit with new steps added. The legislation would give the senior executive one week to appeal the dismissal, and would then give the Merit Systems Protection Board three weeks to render a decision.

During that time the executive would not be paid.

“When you have incompetent people in the VA or worse, dishonest people they should be removed their jobs,” Sanders said. He urged Congress to avoid partisanship and work to improve and pass the legislation.

The compromise legislation is counterproductive and leaves employees such as whistle blowers open to retribution, according to Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service.

He said while the new safeguards offer more due process than previous versions of bills that had no right at appeal, the time frames are still too short to make sure an employee gets a fair hearing.

“You don’t want to be making decisions without the right information and sometimes the right information takes a little bit of time,” he said.

The legislation would also authorize two presidential commissions into how to use information technology to improve patient care and to plan for future construction needs.

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