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Congressman Gus Bilirakis

Representing the 12th District of Florida

The VA Must Be Held Accountable

May 22, 2014
Bilirakis Blog

As Vice-Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, I am dismayed at the recent allegations of bureaucratic misconduct, which may have attributed to the deaths of veterans who were stuck waiting for care within the VA. Late in April, whistleblowers came forward to expose secret waiting lists in the Phoenix VA health care system that may have resulted in the preventable deaths of dozens of veterans.

The recent troubles within the Phoenix VA system, as well as at other VA facilities across the country highlight the need for action. Despite the current fiscal climate and budgetary constraints in Congress, the VA’s budget has increased 40% since 2009. Yet, the VA largely has underperformed despite the growth in funding and staffing. Our veterans are suffering because the backlog of claims was not adequately addressed by the VA and its management, and our veterans are not receiving timely access to care. Veterans were left waiting, and many appear to have paid for the VA’s negligence with their lives.

This week, I was proud to vote for H.R. 4031, the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act of 2014. Despite the failure of VA senior managers – known as Senior Executive Service, or SES employees – it is virtually impossible to hold them accountable.  H.R. 4031 is much needed legislation that allows the Secretary to demote or terminate VA SES employees who neglect our nation’s veterans

Simply put, the process to let go of a VA employee is impractically arduous. No matter how serious their performance issues, they cannot simply be fired. The overly burdensome process usually results in an employee being transferred to another department within the VA, rather than being let go.

Unfortunately, the bad actors who have allowed negligence to fester within the VA remain. Any time the VA health system fails America’s heroes, there is a trend, and some would say culture, of a lack of accountability. The level of mistreatment and neglect that veterans have faced is completely unacceptable, and senior VA management that allowed these failures must be held accountable.

This legislation must be swiftly passed by the Senate and signed into law. Secret wait lists and preventable deaths of veterans cannot stand. Holding SES employees accountable is a good first step in changing the culture of the VA, and improving the level of care our veterans receive.