Weekly Columns

Landmark VA Reform

Jun 14 2017

In 2014, Congress took immediate action to improve veterans’ health care after learning that long wait times at a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital resulted in deaths of veterans waiting to receive care. We addressed many shortcomings within the VA system, but we knew those were just the first of many steps to fix systemic problems. That is why the Senate continues to look for solutions to improve care for our veterans with the recently-passed Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act.

This important legislation, which I was proud to cosponsor, is critical to further reforming VA and allows us to better serve our veterans by creating a culture of accountability. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a leading veteran service organization, said this bill ‘is the strongest VA accountability measure that can be signed into law.’  

As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I’ve worked with my colleagues to craft significant reforms to make it easier to punish bad-acting VA employees. Our veterans were promised they would be taken care of in return for their service. This bill is key to living up to our commitment to provide them with access to quality health care and other benefits they have earned.

This legislation will enable the secretary of VA to expedite the firing and suspension of bad actors. Equally important, it protects employees who expose wrongdoing.

It’s vital that we have adequate measures in place that allow VA to hold accountable those employees who abuse their power and put our veterans in danger. The inability to hold employees responsible undermines the core mission of the department. While the overwhelming majority of VA employees do excellent work, those few bad actors must be held accountable. We do the many, exceptional VA staff members a disservice when there are limited or even no consequences for those who fail to work in the best interests of our veterans. 

The Trump administration is joining Congressional efforts to improve accountability at VA. In April, President Trump created the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection. The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act will codify in law this newly created office.

VA Secretary David Shulkin supports this bill calling it ‘great news for veterans and for hardworking employees at VA.’ The secretary also recently announced the department is taking the positive, proactive step of overhauling its electronic health records system to improve care for veterans and reduce wait times. These developments are further proof that Congress and the executive branch are working in a serious, bipartisan manner to improve the care our nation’s veterans receive. 

The president urged the House of Representatives to quickly pass this bill and send it to his desk for his signature. I am confident that my House colleagues will swiftly approve these necessary reforms.  

Those we’ve entrusted to care for Arkansas veterans must be held to the same standards and integrity that we expect of our nation’s service members. This bipartisan bill is an important tool to ensure our veterans receive the care they earned.