By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, September 14, US Representative Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) expressed her support for HR5620, the VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act, which the Congresswoman says will give greater accountability for Veterans Affairs (VA) employees and stronger protections for whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing. The major VA (Veteran Affairs) reform legislation passed the US House of Representatives on Wednesday.
Congresswoman Roby, who co-sponsored the bill, said that the legislation will make a difference in improving care for veterans. After the systems of keeping two sets of books was exposed after a number of veterans in Arizona died while on the secret waiting lists, a subsequent investigation revealed that the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS) was one of the worst actors in the entire country.
Rep. Roby said, “The Central Alabama VA was home to some of the worst abuses nationwide. Because of the corruption and misconduct we exposed, the director became the first senior manager fired for cause under the new VA accountability law. That was certainly needed, but it didn’t go far enough.” “I’ve said all along that the blame for what happened does not rest with one person alone. There has been a culture of complacency at the VA throughout the ranks because mid-to-lower level employees know they can almost never be fired. This reform bill changes that by finally giving the VA Secretary the authority to swiftly fire, demote or otherwise punish employees for poor performance or misconduct.”
Rep. Roby worked with whistleblowers and the press to help expose major offenses and an inept management team and has been fighting for common sense reforms so these sorts of abuses don’t happen again.
Rep. Roby said that HR5620 would allow the Secretary of Veterans Affairs more flexibility to fire, demote or otherwise punish mid-to-lower level employees for misconduct or poor performance. Currently, stricter accountability measures only apply to senior managers and not rank-and-file employees. HR5620 would authorizes the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to fire, or demote any VA employee for performance or misconduct. Employees would be afforded due process, including an expedited appeal to the Merit Systems Protections Board. It also authorizes the Secretary to reduce a senior manager’s pension if they are convicted of a felony related to their job. Rep. Roby stressed that the bill enhances protections for whistleblowers by providing additional reporting mechanisms and mandating that any supervisor found to have retaliated against a whistleblower be suspended or terminated, with the possibility of bonus recoupment and improves the VA’s appeals process by giving veterans more options and better clarity for pursuing an appeal.
US Representative Bradley Byrne said in his own statement, “Our veterans deserve better from the VA. This is why I voted in support of legislation today to make it easier to fire and discipline VA employees. So far, the VA has hidden behind regulations and guidelines to avoid punishing VA employees. The bill would also block senior VA officials from receiving bonuses for five years. If we are going to end the culture of complacency at the VA, we must start by restoring accountability.”
HR5620 passed the House 310 to 116.
It now moves on to the US Senate.
Congresswoman Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District.