Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., is one of four Democratic lawmakers calling for an investigation into VA's implementation of a law aimed at reforming the department.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., is one of four Democratic lawmakers calling for an investigation into VA's implementation of a law aimed at reforming the department. Alex Brandon/AP

Lawmakers Call for an Investigation Into Discipline at VA

Senators say VA is out of compliance with a 2017 law and enforcing it unfairly.

A group of lawmakers is calling on the Veterans Affairs Department’s watchdog to investigate the implementation of a new law that makes it easier for the agency to discipline and fire its employees, saying it has been carried out “inappropriately and inconsistently.”

VA has not submitted information required by the law to Congress and employees have reported the department is unfairly interpreting its new authorities, according to the four Democratic members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee who sent the letter to the agency’s inspector general. When presented with those accusations, the lawmakers said, the department failed to provide any information to “alleviate our concerns or demonstrate in any way that application of these authorities has been consistent, fair or appropriate.” The Senators calling for the investigation are Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

The 2017 VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act made it easier to discipline employees by shortening the timeframe for due process protections and lessening the burden of proof required to prove a termination was warranted. VA’s implementation of the law has previously drawn the ire of Congress, when six Democratic senators complained the department was carrying it out in a manner “counter to congressional intent.”

Initial reports on the uses of the new authority showed VA has disproportionately focused on lower-level employees, which lawmakers have also criticized. VA fired just 10 employees in medical records positions in 2017, 48 physicians or physician assistants and 308 nurses or nursing assistants. By comparison, it fired 177 employees in housekeeping and 82 in food services. To put that in perspective, VA fired one doctor for every 1,000 it employs, while it removed three nurses for every 1,000; four medical record technicians for every 1,000; and 10 food service workers for every 1,000. VA employed just 227 employees in housekeeping management as of September. The department fired one SES employee in fiscal 2016, compared to five (of the 138 it now employs) in fiscal 2017.

Curt Cashour, a VA spokesman, defended the law's implementation. 

"VA makes absolutely no apology for holding employees accountable when circumstances warrant," Cashour said. "If former employees feel their removal from federal employment is improper, they have a number of appeal options under federal law."

While no Republicans signed onto either of the letters, Amanda Maddox, a spokeswoman for Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., the Republican VA Committee chairman who helped shepherd the compromise legislation through the Senate, said earlier this year the majority party also has concerns with how VA is carrying out the law.

“We have heard some concerns about the accountability law’s implementation, and we are actively working with the VA to monitor implementation to ensure the department has the best workforce possible,” Maddox said.

VA has provided some information to Congress, the senators said in their letter to the IG, but it fell short of what they requested. The department pointed to a lack of tracking software that would have made the information available, but the lawmakers said VA subsequently acquired and implemented such a program without giving the committee the data it was required to provide.

Peter O'Rourke, VA's acting secretary, sent a letter to senators on the committee earlier this month saying that meeting all the data reporting provisions would require 7,000 staff hours. He also said VA's guidance on the accountability law meets the language prescribed by the bill and defended a decision to no longer require the use of a table of penalties and progressive discipline. Cashour added that VA is still working to develop a mechanism for tracking all of its disciplinary actions.

A spokesman for the IG’s office declined to say whether it would take up the case, saying only it received the letter and would “respond accordingly.”

Last week, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican who voted for the firing reform law last year, introduced a measure to repeal the accountability provisions.

Trump, meanwhile, has repeatedly praised the law, including earlier this month when signing a bill to overhaul VA health care.

“Last year, I signed the historic VA Accountability legislation, meaning you now can immediately get rid of people that don't treat our veterans right; that rob us, or cheat us, or aren't good to our great vets,” Trump said at the signing ceremony for the health care law. “You can get them out. You couldn't do it.”

He added that when malfeasance was uncovered at VA, “They couldn't do anything about it. Good people that worked there, they couldn't take care of the bad people. Meaning, you're fired; get the hell out of here.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.