Sen. Bernie Sanders sponsored legislation to make it easier to fire VA executives. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
The Veterans Affairs Department will be able to more easily fire senior executives and the agency will get a financial boost to expand medical care at the agency, under legislation passed by Congress July 31.
The bill also caps bonuses for managers at $360 million from fiscal 2014 to 2024. The legislation now awaits President Obama’s signature to become law.
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.
PREVIOUSLY: VA bill makes firing execs easier
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., passed the Senate on a 91 to 3 vote and helps the VA keep its committment to provide medical care to veterans, Sanders said in a statement.
“It strengthens the VA so that it will be able to hire the doctors, nurses and medical personnel it needs so we can permanently put an end to the long waiting lists. It addresses the very serious problem of accountability and makes certain that dishonest and incompetent senior officials do not remain employed at the VA,” Sanders said.
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 after the announcement of compromise legislation July 28 that 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.