That whole “we made it easier to fire employees of the Veterans Administration” law that Congress passed so that the V.A. could expedite reforms? The V.A. doesn’t want to be bothered. And Senator Johnny Isakson, Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, is not happy. The following is a press release from his office:
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, today released the following statement after being notified by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) that it will no longer use its expedited removal authority to hold VA senior executives accountable.
The VA’s decision comes in light of the recent Justice Department decision not to defend key accountability provisions of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 against a constitutional challenge from a VA executive who was fired in the scandal.
“It is outrageous and unconscionable that the VA is choosing to blatantly ignore all of the accountability reforms set in place by the Veterans Choice Act. Two years ago, veterans were forced to wait far too long for care because of incompetent executives. Since then, we’ve seen scandal after scandal emerge at the department. While some progress has been made to hold those responsible accountable, there is still a long way to go and choosing to ignore these key reforms is a slap in the face to our veterans.
“I am not going to stand by and watch the VA continue to look the other way while another one of its own gets away with egregious misconduct at the expense of veterans’ access to quality care and services. The only way to combat this blatant executive overreach is for the Congress to swiftly pass the Veterans First Act, which I introduced to bring even more accountability reform to the VA. It is the only pending bill in Congress that can stand up to a constitutional challenge and will offer sweeping accountability reform. I urge my colleagues to pass this much-needed bill to change the culture of corruption at the VA immediately.”
Sharon Helman, the former director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, was fired in 2014 in the wake of the VA wait-time scandal. Helman sued for her job back, saying the Veterans Choice Act is unconstitutional, partly because it does not allow executives to appeal to the full Merit Systems Protection Board, only to an administrative judge at the board.
The Justice Department announced that it is refusing to mount a defense against this claim by Helman, saying current law violates the Appointments Clause of the Constitution because the administrative judges are not presidentially appointed whereas members of the board are.
The VA informed Chairman Isakson today that because of this, the department would not use any of the accountability reforms established in the Veterans Choice Act to remove executives.
Isakson’s Veterans First Act removes the Merit Systems Protection Board from the appeal process for senior executives altogether, avoiding this constitutionality challenge. Isakson’s legislation passed the Senate VA Committee unanimously and awaits action by the full Senate.