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CRAMER: VA Reform Bill Heading to President’s Desk

Jun 13, 2017
Press Release

Contact: Adam.Jorde@mail.house.gov

Audio Recordings: Quote 1, Quote 2

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Kevin Cramer supported legislation passed by the House of Representatives today expediting how the Department of Veterans Administration (VA) handles employee performance or misconduct issues.

S. 1094, the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, passed the Senate June 6. It now advances to the White House for President Trump’s signature. A similar bill, H.R. 1259, the VA Accountability First Act of 2017, passed the House March 16.

“Most VA employees are honest and hardworking, and it hurts them and veteran patients when the VA refuses to or cannot hold bad actors accountable,” said Cramer.  “This bill gives more powers to deal with these bad actors, and also improves important whistleblower protections.”

Cramer hopes to see the current Congress pass additional VA reform legislation. “America’s veterans must receive the highest quality medical care and most efficient delivery of benefits,” said Cramer.  “This bill will help clarify the authority of the VA Secretary to adequately address misconduct or poor performance in the agency. I look forward to President Trump signing this important bill into law.”

S. 1094 provides the VA Secretary with additional authority to remove, demote, or suspend any VA employee, including Senior Executive Service employees, for performance or misconduct. It also empowers the VA Secretary to recoup taxpayer-funded bonuses from employees who have acted improperly. The bill expands whistleblower protections, preventing the VA from removing an employee who has an open complaint. It also gives the VA Secretary authority to appoint permanent medical directors at hospitals with acting medical directors. More specifically, the legislation:

  • Authorizes the Secretary to reduce the pensions of employees convicted of a felony that influenced their job performance. Prior to any reduction, employees would be entitled to advance notice, an opportunity to respond to the order, and the opportunity for an appeal of the Secretary’s decision before the Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The appeal would have to be completed within 30 days of filing.
  • Provides the Secretary with the authority to recoup any bonus or award paid to any VA employee if the Secretary determines that the individual engaged in misconduct or poor performance prior to the payment of the award or bonus, and that the bonus or award would not have been issued to the employee had the misconduct or poor performance been known prior to the payment. Prior to any recoupment, the employee would be entitled to advance notice, an opportunity to respond to the order, and the opportunity for an appeal of the Secretary’s decision to the Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The appeal would have to be completed within 30 days of filing.
  • Provides the Secretary with the authority to recoup any relocation expenses paid to any VA employee if the Secretary determines that the employee committed an act of fraud, waste, or malfeasance that influenced the authorization of the relocation expenses. Prior to any recoupment, the employee would be entitled to advance notice, an opportunity to respond to the order, and the opportunity for an appeal of the Secretary’s decision before the Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The appeal would have to be completed within 30 days of filing.
  • Enhances protections for whistleblowers by aligning the current procedures in place for disciplining an employee who retaliates against a VA whistleblower with the procedures authorized by this bill and by specifically barring the VA Secretary from using this removal authority if the employee has an open whistleblower complaint/case with the Office of Special Counsel.
  • Establishes Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, creates a new Assistant Secretary for Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, and adds new whistleblower training for supervisors and makes their protection part of a supervisor’s annual performance evaluation.
  • Authorizes the Secretary to directly appoint individuals to the positions of Medical Center Director and Director of Veterans Integrated Service Network if they have a demonstrated ability in the medical profession, health care administration, or health care fiscal management.
  • Changes the current disciplinary procedures, timelines, and standards for title 38 employees at the VA, including physicians, dentists, podiatrists, chiropractors, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants, and expanded-function dental auxiliaries, to align with the disciplinary timelines for other VA employees set up by this bill.

Support from notable organizations: The American Legion, Concerned Veterans for America, Fleet Reserve Association, Got Your 6, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Student Veterans of America, United States Army Warrant Officers Association, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America

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