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Legislation welcome news for our veterans

Daily News - 6/18/2017

Our veterans deserve the medical care they were promised by a grateful nation that owes them so much.

The sad reality is that generally poor performance by our Department of Veterans Affairs facilities has betrayed the promise made to them by our citizens through their elected representatives. We witnessed this in 2014 at a VA hospital in Arizona, where least 40 U.S. veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, many of whom were placed on a secret waiting list. The secret list was part of an elaborate scheme designed by VA managers in Phoenix who were trying to hide that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor.

The fact that these veterans who served our country admirably died while waiting for an appointment to see a doctor is a total tragedy. And the mere fact that a scheme was developed to try to hide this is simply disgraceful and only advances the argument that the VA needs to be overhauled and reformed to the fullest.

President Donald Trump argued hard for doing exactly this during the 2016 presidential campaign, calling the government's second-largest agency the most corrupt and incompetent. He, too, realized that our veterans weren't getting the adequate care they deserved from the VA and pledged, if elected, to fix the countless problems at the VA.

Trump worked with Congress to help get this done.

On Tuesday, Congress passed the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act on bipartisan votes in the House and Senate. Congress approved long-sought legislation Tuesday to make firing employees easier for the VA.

The bill will make it easier for VA employees, including executives, to be fired by lowering the standard of evidence required to "remove, demote or suspend" someone for poor performance or misconduct. It also gives whistleblowers more protections, including preventing the VA from removing an employee with an open whistleblower case. It would create a permanent VA accountability office, established in April by executive order.

The legislation will also shorten the time employees have to respond to a disciplinary action, shorten the grievance process to 21 days, expedite the appeals process for rank-and-file employees with the Merit Systems Protection Board and eliminate the MSPB as an avenue for senior executives to appeal disciplinary actions. Instead, senior executives can appeal directly to the VA secretary and challenge the decision in the courts.

It would codify and strengthen the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection and prohibit bonuses and relocation expenses for employees who have been found guilty of wrongdoing or abuse.

This is great news for our veterans, as it appears this legislation is a big step in the right direction in turning the VA around. For too long, there has been minimal accountability within the VA, so this soon-to-be new law should put those working at the VA on notice that any mistreatment of our veterans ? or not giving them adequate treatment in a timely manner ? will be met with severe consequences.


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