After three years of constant problems at Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals, the Senate passed a bill that will make it easier to fire offending VA employees currently protected by layers of bureaucracy. Fox News reported:

The bill would lower the burden of proof needed to fire employees — from a “preponderance” to “substantial evidence,” allowing a dismissal even if most evidence is in a worker’s favor.

The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, opposed the bill. But the measure was viewed as more in balance with workers’ rights than a version passed by the House in March, mostly along party lines. The Senate bill calls for a longer appeal process than the House’s version — 180 days vs. 45 days — though workers would not be paid during that appeal. VA executives also would be held to a tougher standard than rank-and-file employees.

This legislation will allow the department “to take back an employee bonus or reduce a former employee’s pension, a move senators argue will help make sure the department isn’t on the hook to continue paying convicted employees.”

The leaders within the VA must “provide more training on whistleblower rights and be prohibited from firing employees who have filed complaints through official channels.”

Now the bill heads to the House.

President Donald Trump wants “the House to act quickly” so he can sign the bill. Trump has long promised to clean up the messy VA.

From The Hill:

“[This is] the strongest accountability measure of the V.A. that can be signed into law, which means we’re reaching into every corner of the problems at the VA that exists over the last years. We’re making sure we make the corrections necessary to make the V.A. an accountable organization,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who oversees the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

“If you’re not doing your job, then you shouldn’t be paid, and if there is anywhere that this should be enforced – it’s the VA,” Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said in a statement.

Massive Support

The bill has received a lot of support from veterans and Democrats. From Military Times:

But most of the major veterans service organizations have already given their endorsement of the measure, as have key Democrats in the House and Senate. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Jon Tester, D-Mont., helped craft the legislation and defended it as “a bill that’s going to work.”

“It’s going to give the VA what they need to hold people accountable,” he said. “Every once in a while we get a bad apple, and the VA needs to be able to remove that bad apple because that bad apple reflects poorly on everybody.”

The voice vote allowed the measure to pass the chamber without any formal recorded opposition.

Scandals

We have documented numerous scandals at VA hospitals across the country.

Imminent Danger

The general inspector found that veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in D.C. faced “immediate danger” due to the disgusting conditions. USA Today reported:

The VA inspector general found that in recent weeks the operating room at the hospital ran out of vascular patches to seal blood vessels and ultrasound probes used to map blood flow.
The facility had to borrow bone material for knee replacement surgeries. And at one point, the hospital ran out of tubes needed for kidney dialysis, so staff had to go to a private-sector hospital and ask for some.

The hospital, which serves more than 98,000 veterans in the nation’s capital, lacks an effective inventory system, the inspector general determined, and senior VA leaders have known about the problem for months and haven’t fixed it. Investigators also inspected 25 sterile storage areas and found 18 were dirty.

VA hospital kept a dead veteran in a shower for 9 hours

The Bay Pines VA Healthcare System in Tampa Bay, FL, left the body of a veteran in the shower for nine hours before transporting him to the morgue. The investigation found that some of the “hospice staff violated hospital and Veterans Affairs policies by ‘failing to provide appropriate post-mortem care,’ including proper transportation of a body to the morgue, according to the report by the hospital’s Administrative Investigation Board.”

Spokesman Jason Dangel told the publication that the hospital has “ordered retraining and a change in procedures.” He also said the hospital officials took “appropriate personnel action,” but he did not say if the officials fired or disciplined those at fault.

VA Whistleblower Faced Retaliation

The VA attempted to punish Dr. Dale Klein after he exposed “secret wait-lists and wait-time manipulation” at his clinic in Poplar Bluff, MO. From Fox News:

Klein was initially placed on administrative leave. The Missouri-V.A. closed his pain management clinic and tried to terminate him. According to court documents, the V.A. tried to fire Klein “not based on substandard care or lack of clinical competence” but instead for “consistent acceleration of trivial matters through his chain of command.”

“I do not consider secret wait-lists and manipulations of wait times to be trivial matters,” Klein said.

$142 Million in Bonuses

In November 2015, the VA handed out $142 million in bonuses despite the scandals that surrounded the department. USA Today reported at the time:

Among the recipients were claims processors in a Philadelphia benefits office that investigators dubbed the worst in the country last year. They received $300 to $900 each. Managers in Tomah, Wis., got $1,000 to $4,000, even though they oversaw the over-prescription of opiates to veterans – one of whom died.

The VA also rewarded executives who managed construction of a facility in Denver, a disastrous project years overdue and more than $1 billion over budget. They took home $4,000 to $8,000 each. And in St. Cloud, Minn., where an internal investigation report last year outlined mismanagement that led to mass resignations of health care providers, the chief of staff cited by investigators received a performance bonus of almost $4,000.

As one of his final acts last year before resigning, then-VA secretary Eric Shinseki announced he was suspending bonuses in the wake of revelations that VA employees falsified wait lists to meet wait-time targets — ostensibly as part of efforts to secure the extra pay. But he only curtailed them for a sliver of VA executives — those in senior levels of the Veterans Health Administration, which oversees health care.