The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a bill to grant the Veterans Affairs secretary expanded authority to fire senior executives for poor performance.
The measure passed on a 390-33 vote amid allegations that veterans encountered delays in access to medical care at multiple VA hospitals across the country, leading to dozens of deaths. All 33 votes in opposition came from Democrats, including ledership Reps. Steny Hoyer (Md.) and James Clyburn (S.C.). House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) voted to approve the measure.
Under the bill, the VA secretary would be authorized to dismiss senior executives or demote them to the civil service. It would require the VA secretary to notify Congress of such a firing or demotion within 30 days.House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said the measure would help rid the department of incompetent employees in light of the controversy.
“The committee has received nothing but disturbing silence from the White House and only excuse after another from the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Miller said.
Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) said the legislation would send a message that the VA would be held accountable.
“It is very important as we go into Memorial Day that we let the veterans know that we appreciate their service. And we also need to let them know that we’re going to do all we can to make sure they have the quality health care they deserve,” Brown said.
An administration official said the White House supports the overall goals of the legislation, but also had concerns that it could have unintended consequences.
Read More Here
Obama vows fix to veterans’ health care troubles
WASHINGTON (AP) – With outrage mounting over veterans’ health care, President Barack Obama declared Wednesday that allegations of misconduct at VA hospitals will not be tolerated, and he left open the possibility that Secretary Eric Shinseki, a disabled war veteran, could be held to account.
“I will not stand for it – not as commander in chief but also not as an American,” Obama said following an Oval Office meeting with the embattled Shinseki.
Congress moved to keep up the pressure on the administration, with the House easily approving a measure Wednesday evening that would give the VA secretary more authority to fire or demote the 450 senior career employees who serve as hospital directors or executives in the agency’s 21 regions. The vote was 390 to 33.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, sponsored the measure, saying VA officials who have presided over mismanagement or negligence are more likely to receive bonuses or glowing performance reviews than any sort of punishment. He declared that a “widespread and systemic lack of accountability is exacerbating” the department’s problems.
The White House said it supported the goal of seeking greater accountability at the VA but had unspecified concerns about the legislation.
The growing furor surrounding the Department of Veterans Affairs centers on allegations of treatment delays and preventable deaths at VA hospitals. The department’s inspector general’s office says 26 facilities are being investigated nationwide, including a Phoenix hospital facing allegations that 40 people died while waiting for treatment and staff kept a secret list of patients in order to hide delays in care.
The allegations have raised fresh concerns about the Obama administration’s management of a department that has been struggling to keep up with the influx of new veterans returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama’s comments Wednesday – his first on the matter in more than three weeks – signaled a greater urgency by the White House to keep the matter from spiraling into a deeper political problem in a midterm election year.
Read More Here
The House is set to vote this week on a bill that would give the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs authority to fire or demote senior executives for perceived performance problems without going through the usual administrative procedures.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) added the measure to the weekly docket on Thursday, the same date VA Secretary Eric Shinseki testified about reports that VA health clinics throughout the country have cooked their books to hide treatment delays, some of which may have affected patients who died while waiting for care.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst).
Ironically, the American Legion has called for Shinseki’s removal because of the alleged coverups, along with other problems such as a longstanding backlog of disability claims and preventable deaths at various VA hospitals. If the secretary departs, his critics would have to wait for a replacement to fire senior officials for the recent controversy.
Shinseki said during the hearing that he is “mad as hell” about the reported treatment delays, and he vowed to stick around until he improves VA services for veterans or President Obama asks him to resign.
MORE: Shinseki faces tough questions on VA scandal, vows to ‘accomplish a mission’
Although firing VA officials may quell the recent outrage over reported coverups, the Senior Executives Association has raised concerns about the House bill. Below is a summary of the measure’s drawbacks, as outlined in recent statements from the group:
* Due process: Senior executives can appeal firings and demotions to an administrative panel known as the Merit Systems Protection Board, which determines whether the personnel actions were warranted. However, the hearings are informal and the decisions are non-binding for agency executives, unlike with rank-and-file employees.
The SEA said the House bill would rob employees of the right to recourse when department chiefs wrongly punish their workers. They also noted that accountability processes already exist for senior executives.
Agencies must provide a 30-day written notice when they decide to remove senior executives. The officials can then argue against removal, choose to resign, or return back to work at a lower position. They may also be eligible for immediate retirement.
Read More Here
Obama Backs Shinseki Amid Calls to Resign (Updated)
Posted at 5:53 p.m. on May 5
Updated 6:22 p.m. | The White House is backing Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki after he faced calls to resign Monday over allegations that veterans died waiting for care in Phoenix and other problems in his department.
“As the President said last week, we take the allegations around the Phoenix situation very seriously,” said Shin Inouye, a White House spokesman. “That’s why he immediately directed Secretary Shinseki to investigate, and Secretary Shinseki has also invited the independent Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General to conduct a comprehensive review,” he said.
“We must ensure that our nation’s veterans get the benefits and services that they deserve and have earned. The President remains confident in Secretary Shinseki’s ability to lead the Department and to take appropriate action based on the IG’s findings.”
Earlier Monday, the American Legion called on Shinseki to resign, although the Veterans of Foreign Wars declined to do so. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he wants the investigation to go forward first.
Read More Here