House Votes to Strengthen Accountability at Veterans Affairs
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A measure to strengthen accountability within the Department of Veterans Affairs is one step closer to becoming law today, as the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1259, The VA Accountability First Act.
The bill provides the Secretary of Veterans Affairs increased flexibility to remove or discipline any VA employee for poor performance or misconduct. It would also authorize new penalties, including recouping bonuses and expenses, and reducing an employee’s pension if they are convicted of a felony in relation to their job at the VA.
U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R-Ala.) strongly supports the measure, saying the VA reform law enacted in 2014 did not go far enough.
“Two and a half years ago, in the wake of the veterans wait list scandal, Congress rightfully passed legislation giving the VA Secretary greater authority to fire senior managers responsible for those failures,” Roby said in a speech on the House Floor.
“But, Mr. Speaker, we all know that law didn’t go far enough. Responsibility for failures at the VA doesn’t just lie with senior managers. We need to provide the VA Secretary increased authority to swiftly remove, demote, or suspend ANY VA employee for poor performance or misconduct. That’s why I urge my colleagues to support The VA Accountability First Act."
Passed in the wake of the 2014 veteran wait list scandal, the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act gave the Secretary of Veterans Affairs needed authority to fire senior managers found responsible for serious failures. However, the bill stopped short of extending that same accountability down the chain of command.
Roby has argued that Congress must go further to make sure rank-and-file VA employees are subject to the same strict accountability standards. Noting that the 2014 reform law helped lead to the removal of the director of the troubled Central Alabama VA, Roby pledged to continue working to improve access to care for veterans.
“I was glad to support the  bill, and in fact, the director of our own scandal-ridden Central Alabama VA became the first to be fired under the new law,” Roby said.
“The problems at the VA may have left the front page for now, but the problems are still very present. The work of improving veterans’ access to care is far from over – and I will not stop until the work is done.”
H.R. 1259 passed by a vote of 237-178. The bill now goes to the Senate.
The House also passed H.R. 1181, The Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act. The bill aims to ensure the VA does not unfairly designate an individual as mentally incompetent and therefore threaten their 2nd Amendment right to firearms without due process. Specifically, the bill ensures that only a judge or magistrate – not a VA bureaucrat – has the authority to rule that a beneficiary is a danger to themselves or others.
H.R. 1181 passed by a vote of 240-175. It, too, now goes to the Senate.