WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) joined Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and other members of the committee on Wednesday to press their colleagues to allow a vote on the Veterans First Act, bipartisan legislation that will strengthen accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Last week, VA announced that it would no longer use its expedited removal authority to hold its executives accountable after the Department of Justice (DOJ) said current law is unconstitutional. DOJ decided it would not defend a provision in current accountability law against a constitutional challenge by a VA executive who was fired in the Phoenix wait-time scandal.
“The way I found out about about this was in the press. The VA Secretary didn’t even have the courtesy to contact us and tell us what was going on. He arbitrarily decided it was unconstitutional,” Boozman said on the Senate floor. “Secretary McDonald was very supportive of this authority until this case. In light of VA’s decision last week, it’s even more imperative that this body move to pass the Veterans First Act which will significantly improve accountability at the VA.”
The legislation removes the Merit Systems Protection Board from the appeal process, the provision in current law that DOJ says is unconstitutional.
“We need to ensure VA has the tools—and the will—to ensure the small number of employees who abuse their positions do not undermine the great work being done by the vast majority of VA employees around the country,” Boozman said.
In addition, to giving VA leadership the tools to fire bad actors, the legislation prohibits bonuses for employees accused of wrongdoing and institutes protections for whistleblowers. It also seeks to improve the Veterans Choice Program, enhance education benefits and fight opioid abuse among our veteran community.
The Veterans First Act, cosponsored by 44 Senators, passed the Senate VA Committee unanimously and is awaiting a vote by the full Senate.