Can We Make The VA Accountable?

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Liberty News reported on Wednesday about a disturbing case of a VA doctor telling a veteran to kill himself over social media. Attention-grabbing cases like that one combined the huge backlog of VA patients unable to obtain necessary medical have been in the news and the public consciousness, leading some former armed service members to quip “sticks and stones may break your bones, but the VA will *$&#ing kill you.”

Congress took a step towards fixing the VA problem Wednesday, passing H.R. 1994, the Veterans’ Affairs Accountability Act, in a lopsided 256-170 vote. 16 Democrats crossed party lines to support the measure, with a single Republican voting against it.

Introduced by Floridian Republican Jeff Miller, the bill is designed to make it easier to discipline or fire VA employees for incompetence or misconduct. “The presence of poor performers and misconduct ranging from unethical practices to outright criminal behavior can spread like a cancer through a workforce,” said Miller.

The Obama administration, perhaps predictably, threatened to veto the bill if it clears the Senate. The president’s statement said, in part “These provisions remove important rights, protections, and incentives which are available to the vast majority of federal employees in other agencies across the government and are essential to ensure that federal employees are afforded due process.”

Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, was quick to call out Obama’s hypocrisy given his support for last year’s Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, which had similar intent to H.R. 1994. The 2014 Act is a more draconian version of HR,” said Bonosaro, “yet the Administration had no issue then with whether the new legal removal authority and process affected the due process rights of career Senior Executives, who are not in any bargaining unit and therefore are not represented by unions.”

Miller also credited Obama’s newfound resistance to VA reforms to undue union influence. The voice of the unions should not be heard over the voice of our veterans,” he said. “We need to continue to push for the same change we pushed for last year. Now is not the time to change our belief in the need for greater accountability within VA.”

In a harsh editorial, the Military Times called for greater transparency, accountability, and better service from the VA. The Times pointed out that one in three veterans died waiting for care, and pointed out the madness of protecting incompetent workers in cases where lives are literally on the line: “If you can’t do your job, let’s find someone who can.”

Earlier this month, Miller told reporters at a press conference that H.R. 1994 is important to reign in “federal government gone amok,” and stated that only two employees had been fired from 110 medical centers in the wake of a fraudulent wait-list scandal. The VA originally claimed 60 employees were fired, but later recanted.

Greater accountability for “bad behavior,” as Miller said, can only be good news for veterans awaiting care. Part of our social contract with our veterans is exemplary health care, and if we’re not, as a nation, providing it, we need to get rid of the people who are part of the problem, and start bringing in people who will be part of the solution. Hopefully President Obama will see that, and shelve his ill-conceived veto threat.

Mick Warshaw
Mick Warshaw has written professionally for newspapers and magazines. His experience living all over the country as an Air Force brat combined with his experience in several different industries helps him see multiple sides of many issues. Mick also has three wonderful children. In addition to the news, Mick writes about sports, video games, pop culture, and original speculative fiction. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and his personal blog.