Citing his inability to immediately remove a VA employee who was caught watching pornography while with a patient, VA Secretary David J. Shulkin, MD, has called on Congress to enact legislation that makes it easier and faster to remove employees at the VA. “This is an example of why we need accountability legislation as soon as possible,” Dr. Shulkin said in a statement. “It’s unacceptable that VA has to wait 30 days to act on a proposed removal.”
Currently, VA employees receive at least 30 days notice of firing, have a right to a grievance hearing, and must be paid throughout the final adjudication as long as there is no evidence of a crime. However, employees can be removed from patient interaction or placed on administrative leave.
In March, the House of Representatives passed the VA Accountability First Act of 2017 (HR 1259), which would reduce the advanced warning time to 10 days and speed up the appeals process, but the bill has yet to be considered by Senate. “This situation underscores the need for Congress to get VA accountability legislation to President Trump's desk, and I thank Secretary Shulkin for making this a top priority,” Rep. David P. “Phil” Roe, MD (R-Tenn.), chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee concurred. “I was proud my bill, the VA Accountability First Act of 2017, passed the House with bipartisan support earlier this month. Veterans deserve better. I encourage my Senate colleagues to consider my legislation, and I look forward to working with Secretary Shulkin to change the way VA does business.”
Despite the bipartisan support cited by Rep. Roe, many Democrats have indicated that they are wary of the bill because it strips VA civil servant employees of many employment protections. Ranking Democratic House committee on Veterans’ Affairs member Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn) warned that the changes in employee protections in the bill make it less likely it will pass through the Senate and that it could face court challenges. “By refusing to compromise on the 1 percent of this legislation we disagree on, Republicans have made it harder to pass the 99 percent of the legislation that is vital to making improvements,” according to a report in Stars and Stripes.
Organizations that represent VA workers also have voiced opposition. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents 270,000 VA employees, also argued that the bill “would render useless” the process that providers use “to protect their voice at work and defend themselves against managers’ retaliation and discrimination.” In a letter to the House committee, AFGE argued that the bill, “weakens the critical protections that VA employees need to speak up against mismanagement and patient harm.”