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House Passes Bills to Require Body Cameras and Use of Force Oversight for VA Police, Boost Department’s HR

VA's 5,000-person internal police force has mistreated veterans, lawmaker says.

The House on Tuesday passed several bills to bring increased scrutiny and oversight to the Veterans Affairs Department, including its police force and human resources department.

The VA Police Force Improvement and Accountability Act (H.R. 2429) would shed a light on use of force by the department’s 4,000 officers and institute other transparency initiatives. It would also require all officers to wear body cameras that record and store audio and video. The department would have to publish information on all incidents involving its police officers in recent years and ensure the public can easily contact the force with questions related to arrests, tickets and other matters. All use of force incidents would be reported to VA leadership, which would then investigate each case.  

Other federal law enforcement entities, such as Customs and Border Protection and the Secret Service, have experimented with body-worn cameras but have yet to fully institute them. The Justice Department recently announced it would require body cameras for its law enforcement officers engaged in executing search warrants and making pre-planned arrests. VA would also face a requirement to develop minimum staffing levels for police at each of its facilities. 

“It is wrong that veterans have been mistreated by the police force that is tasked with protecting them,” said Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., when introducing the bill earlier this year. “Our veterans deserve nothing less than full transparency and accountability from the agency that serves them.”

The VA Hospitals Establishing Leadership Performance (HELP) Act (H.R. 293) would force VA to create new qualifications for each HR position within the Veterans Health Administration. VHA has struggled for years with vacancies, totaling nearly 50,000 open jobs in recent years. The department anticipates adding 19,000 employees in fiscal 2022 after onboarding in record numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Republicans on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, led by ranking member Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., said in introducing the HELP Act that VA hiring is overly complicated and the department needs to ensure its HR team is up to the task. 

VA operates two distinct personnel systems—one under Title 38 of the U.S. Code and one under the governmentwide Title Five—creating specific needs for the department that require a “well qualified and highly trained” HR department, the lawmakers said. The HELP Act would standardize those qualification requirements and task VA with creating new performance metrics to ensure the HR staff was meeting them. 

“Veterans deserve to be treated by the best providers available, but VA’s complex hiring processes and lack of HR expertise hinders the department’s ability to serve veterans,” the lawmakers said when introducing their bill. “The VA HELP Act would put common-sense reforms in place to help ensure that VA medical centers and clinics are prepared to provide our nation’s veterans with top-notch care.”

Both measures passed the House with bipartisan support and now head to the Senate for consideration. 

“Today, the House took strong bipartisan action to support our veterans by passing legislation that helps create a more welcoming and accessible VA and provides more rigorous oversight of both VA and VA’s police force,” said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., who chairs the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, on Tuesday.

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