The Senate today approved legislation to reform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and make it easier for the Secretary of the VA to fire poorly-performing employees.
The legislation – sponsored by U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) – is aimed at improving the quality of care veterans receive at the VA by holding VA employees more accountable. The bill also creates new protections for VA whistleblowers and ensures that employees who are terminated have an adequate opportunity to appeal their dismissal.
“The brave men and women who have served our country deserve the very best care our nation can give them,” Nelson said on the Senate floor prior to the vote. “This bipartisan bill will help improve the quality of care our veterans receive by reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
For years, the VA has been plagued by reports of inefficiency and long wait times. The legislation approved today would, among other things:
- Authorize the secretary to fire, suspend, reassign or demote senior executives if the secretary determines that their misconduct or performance warrants such an action.
- Authorize the secretary to fire, demote or suspend non-senior executives without pay.
- Ensure employees have an adequate opportunity to appeal their termination.
- Protect whistleblowers from retaliation by not allowing the secretary to use this authority to fire employees who have filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel.
- Establish an Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection for employees to bring to light major problems at the VA without losing their job or facing retaliation.
- Allow the secretary to rescind an employee’s bonus if the secretary deems it appropriate.
- Allow the secretary to reduce a senior executive’s retirement pension if they are convicted of a felony related to their work at the VA.
The legislation, approved today by a voice vote in the Senate, now heads to the House for consideration.
Following is a rush transcript and here’s a link to watch video of Nelson’s remarks on the Senate floor prior to the vote.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate Floor
June 6, 2017
Sen. Nelson: Mr. President, it’s fitting today, June the 6th, the anniversaries of D-Day in Europe and the Battle of Midway in the Pacific that this is a time we are talking about our country’s veterans in the debate that’s going on in the Senate.
The brave men and women who have served our country deserve the very best care our nation can give them. That’s why I rise today in support of the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act which I am given to believe later this afternoon will pass by a voice vote here in the Senate.
This bipartisan bill will help improve the quality of care our veterans receive by reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs and making it easier for the secretary of the VA to fire poorly performing employees. The legislation will allow the VA to hold its employees more accountable. It also creates new protections for whistleblowers, those who report wrongdoing, and it would ensure that any employee who is terminated has an adequate opportunity to appeal their dismissal. For years the VA has been plagued by reports of inefficiency and long wait times.
And I might say that those reports, often we find are true, but that is completely separate from the quality of medical care that is given through the VA health care system. You talk to almost any veteran and they are very pleased at the quality of that medical care. It’s the administrative stuff getting in the way, and that’s what there’s been such an outrage about.
Well, this VA bill is going to help the VA get rid of the bad actors while protecting the good ones. I want to make it clear that the vast majority of VA employees perform their work admirably in an often thankless environment.
These dedicated public servants work hard to provide the day-to-day care that our veterans deserve and they should be protected.
And that’s why I — while I believe that it’s important to hold poorly performing employees accountable, I also believe that it’s important to protect the rights of the employees who may have been wrongly terminated, especially at the lower levels, by giving them the opportunity to appeal a supervisor’s decision to fire them. And this bill that we’re going to pass does that. It is supported by dozens of veteran service organizations, the office of special counsel, and the secretary himself. And so I urge our colleagues to join me and join so many of us in voting in favor of the bill.
And I would also say that on this very famous day, this anniversary, June the 6th, where I have been to the beaches of Normandy, I’ve been to Omaha beach.
As a matter of fact, while there it’s impossible to walk into that cemetery on the cliff overlooking the beach. It’s impossible to walk into that beautiful, beautiful American cemetery and not become very, very emotional realizing what happened in 1944.
I felt so strongly about this that at one point I wanted to get on my jogging shoes and run the four miles of that Omaha beach. It was something that I just wanted to reach back into time of having been there where so many sacrificed so much. And then, of course, the Battle of Midway, the time at which it turned the battle in the Pacific where a young admiral showed his courage and his superiority in planning, and as a result of that battle, turned around the course of the war in the Pacific with Japan.
So what a day to remember, June the 6th.
Mr. President, thank you and I yield the floor.