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VA Refuses To Support Numerous Bills Requiring Accountability

Members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) have recently introduced four bills to bolster accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA doesn’t support any of them.

The VA confirmed at a hearing Tuesday that it does not support the Increasing the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability to Veterans Act of 2015.

Robert Worley, director of the education service at the Veterans Business Administration, cited legal issues as the main reason for the VA’s stringent opposition, but noted that the bill also makes it difficult to recruit top managerial talent. Specifically, the VA’s concerns surround the Due Process, Takings, and Ex Post Facto clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Worley stated that some of these concerns are also shared by the Department of Justice.

Also at Tuesday’s hearing, the VA declined to support the Ensuring VA Accountability Act, which was sponsored by HVAC chairman and GOP Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida. The third bill the VA isn’t interested in seeing pass through Congress is the Veterans Affairs Retaliation Prevention Act of 2015.

Employees at the VA have previously had a difficult time blowing the whistle on inappropriate activities, highlighted by the recent scandal at the Tomah VA medical center. Ryan Honl, a former mental health secretary at Tomah who said he was asked to commit fraud within weeks of taking the job, also stated that he faced retaliation after bringing allegations to leadership of bad practices. (RELATED: Review Finds Harmful Prescription Drug Policies At Tomah VA)

One reason given by the VA for why it’s against the retaliation bill is the “minimal education” of its supervisors. Director of the VA’s Office of Accountability Review Meghan Flanz added that the new protections proposed under the bill just weren’t necessary. As Flanz told HVAC, “We believe these current whistleblower protections are effective.”

Still, VA Secretary Robert McDonald maintains that he’s doing everything he can to protect whistleblowers and won’t tolerate retaliation under his watch.

The one accountability bill that the VA hasn’t explicitly taken a position on is another piece of legislation from Miller. H.R.280 has already passed the House, and if enacted, would allow the VA secretary to strip back bonuses from employees who are either corrupt or undeserving.

Over $380,000 dollars in bonus funds have been given to VA officials at hospitals currently under investigation. “Ideally, VA employees and executives who collected bonuses under false pretenses should be subject to prosecution when warranted, but at a minimum their bonuses should be paid back in full,” Miller said, according to Defense One.

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