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Sinema, Miller, Veterans Groups Push Bipartisan Legislation to Hold VA Accountable

Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema today joined House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller and representatives from leading veterans organizations at a press conference calling for the passage of the bipartisan VA Accountability Act, which gives the Secretary of Veterans Affairs new authority to hold VA employees accountable and improve performance at the VA.

“It’s ridiculous that two employees responsible for the tragedies at the Phoenix VA have been on paid leave for an entire year,” said Congresswoman Sinema. “It’s wrong that it takes this long to fire people responsible for poor treatment of veterans. We have to change the system and the culture. Bad actors should be held accountable, and those doing good work should be commended. I’m committed to working with Chairman Miller, veterans service organizations, and my colleagues on both side of the aisle to hold the VA responsible and ensure veterans have access to the timely, high-quality care they deserve.”

The VA Accountability Act would:

• Give the secretary the authority to remove any VA employee based on performance or misconduct. The employee would have the right to file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board within seven days of their removal, and the MSPB would have to make a final decision on the removal within 45 days of the appeal submission. Legislation providing the Secretary authority to remove VA senior executive service employees in a similar manner sailed through Congress and was signed into law by the president last August.

• Limit the secretary’s authority to remove or demote an employee if they are a whistleblower who has filed a claim with the Office of Special Counsel.

• Require that all probationary periods for new VA employees last for at least 18 months – instead of the current period of one year. It would also give the secretary the authority to extend this probationary period as he sees fit. When an employee’s probationary period ends, their immediate supervisor would be required to make an affirmative decision that the employee is qualified for their position before full civil service protections are granted.

Congresswoman Sinema’s full remarks are below:

Thank you Chairman Miller for inviting me to join you today. Thank you to IAVA, the American Legion, Amvets, and Concerned Veterans for America for standing with us.

A year ago this month, we learned veterans at the Phoenix VA were kept on secret waiting lists, waiting months before seeing a doctor, and not getting the care they needed. These revelations were shocking and sickening. Some veterans died while waiting for care. That's absolutely unacceptable, and frankly it's un-American.

On May 1, 2014, three executives responsible for the tragedies at the Phoenix VA were placed on administrative leave. Two of those employees are still on paid leave, nearly a year later. It’s wrong that it takes this long to fire people responsible for poor treatment of veterans. We have to change the system. Bad actors should be held accountable, and those doing good work should be rewarded.

The VA Accountability Act gives the VA authority to hold employees accountable, fire the bad actors, and change the culture of the VA to put veterans first. Secretary McDonald has pledged to change the culture at the VA, putting veterans first. This legislation gives him greater tools to accomplish the mission of the VA.

The bill also provides additional protection from retaliation for whistleblowers. If it weren't for these brave men and women, we may not have learned about the tragedies at the Phoenix VA. More lives could have been lost. Whistleblowers working at VAs all over the country are trying to bring accountability and reform to the system, yet fear of retaliation holds many back. In order for the VA to become a center of excellence that puts veterans first, we need whistleblowers to continue to speak up and speak out. This bill protects them and their efforts to reform a damaged system.

I will continue working with Chairman Miller, veterans service organizations, and my colleagues on both side of the aisle to hold the VA responsible and ensure veterans have access to the timely, high-quality care they deserve.

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