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VA bill makes firing execs easier

Jul. 29, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
VA Secretary Shinseki Testifies Before Senate On S
Sen. Bernie Sanders sponsored legislation to allow easier firing of VA senior execs. WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 15: Chairman Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks to U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki during the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing that is focusing on wait times veterans face to get medical care May 15, 2014 in Washington, DC. The American Legion called Monday for the resignation of Shinseki amid reports by former and current VA employees that up to 40 patients may have died because of delayed treatment at an agency hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images) (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

The House and Senate have agreed on legislation that would make it easier to fire senior executives at the Veterans Affairs Department, according an announcement by lawmakers July 28.

The bill would also cap bonuses for managers at $360 million from fiscal 2014 to 2024.

Widespread reports of falsified wait lists and improper scheduling practices has sparked an inspector general investigation, the resignation of VA secretary Eric Shinseki and a flurry of legislation that would make it easier to fire senior management and reform the VA health care system.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., will help the VA cover the obligations the government made to members of the military.

“Planes and tanks and guns are a cost of war. So is taking care of the men and women who use those weapons and fight our battles,” Sanders said in a statement.

The legislation also:

■Allocates about $17 billion to help the agency hire more doctors and nurses and allow some veterans to use private hospitals and doctors if they have been waiting for more than a month or live too far away from a VA facility.

■Creates a task force to examine the technology and software used at the VA for scheduling appointments and treatments.

■Requires the VA to hire a third party to conduct an independent assessment of hospital care and medical services found at VA facilities and submit a report to Congress on its results.

But while federal employee groups in general support boosting funding for the VA they are wary of removing civil service protections from workers.

J. David Cox, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees said whistleblowers within agencies who bring abuses to light rely on job protections to prevent retaliation.

“Although AFGE supports accountability for VA executives responsible for wait list manipulation, accountability does not require eliminating due process rights; we have all seen in recent months the culture of fear in the VA that intimidates and harms employees trying to speak up for veterans. Due process protects the innocent; we want to make sure we only punish the guilty,” Cox said.

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