Unveils groundbreaking bill to bring needed accountability reform to VA as well as enhancements to veterans’ health care, benefits
U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, today announced the Veterans First Act, to begin to change the culture of corruption at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The bill will give the VA the tools to fire bad actors, will prohibit bonuses for employees accused of wrongdoing, and will institute protections for whistleblowers.
Isakson said the legislation is designed to demand a higher level of accountability from the 345,000-employee department in the wake of numerous scandals over the past few years at VA facilities across the country involving serious mismanagement, misconduct and mistreatment of veterans.
“When people look back at what Congress accomplished this year, the Veterans First Act will be at the top of the list,” said Isakson. “The numerous scandals at the VA and the outrageous examples of employee mismanagement and misconduct have got to stop. Our veterans deserve much better than this. Our bill will begin to change the culture of corruption at the VA by giving the VA the tools it needs to hold bad actors accountable. There are numerous other provisions in our bipartisan bill that will improve services for our veterans. I urge my colleagues to put veterans first and send this bill to the president as soon as possible.”
The Veterans First Act makes it easier for leadership at the VA to remove employees at all levels. It removes the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), which recently reversed the demotions of three senior executives at the VA, from the appeal process for executives at the department. The bill also prohibits bonuses for employees who have been found guilty of wrongdoing and includes protections for whistleblowers.
The bill also includes numerous provisions to improve services for our nation’s veterans, including expanding a VA program that allows veterans with long-term medical conditions to receive care in their own homes, enhancing programs for veterans’ mental health care, and addressing the VA’s massive backlog of veteran disability claims appeals.
Building upon the Senate VA committee’s work over the past 16 months, the Veterans First Act specifically:
- Changes the culture of corruption at the VA by improving accountability to make it easier for the VA Secretary to remove bad actors at all levels of the department.
- Expands the VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers to all generations of veterans.
- Strengthens the Veterans Choice program by establishing prompt payment standards and streamlining the requirements for community medical providers to enter into agreements with the VA.
- Enhances education benefits for veterans, surviving spouses and children, and allows thousands of mobilized Reservists to earn GI Bill eligibility.
- Addresses the crisis of opioid over-prescription among veterans.
- Enhances research on the potential health effects from toxic exposure to veterans and their descendants.
- Strengthens programs to combat veteran homelessness.
- Improves the disability claims and appeals process by requiring the VA to launch a pilot program that will cut down the massive backlog of appeals awaiting action.