Obama: House VA Accountability Bill Harms Due Process for Workers

WASHINGTON—A new Republican measure to improve “accountability” at the Department of Veterans Affairs is positive on streamlining veterans’ appeals about quality of care and denial of benefits, but harms due process for the VA’s workers, President Barack Obama’s Office of Management and Budget says.

But while blasting due process provisions of HR5620, Obama’s advisors stop short of threatening to tell him to veto the entire legislation. The GOP majority on the House Veterans Affairs Committee passed it and GOP leaders brought it up on Sept. 14. It passed 310-116, with 69 Democrats joining 241 Republicans in voting for it. No Republicans opposed it.

Obama’s Office of Management and Budget praised the committee for one section of HR5620: An administration-authored proposal to reform VA appeals away from one-size-fits-all and towards giving “all veterans to have a clear answer and path forward on their appeal within one year from filing. Then it lowered the boom on HR5620’s anti-worker sections.

“HR5620 contains numerous provisions that would undermine VA’s workforce and could ultimately hinder the ability of the over 330,000 dedicated civil servants at VA to effectively serve veterans,” OMB said.

While Obama’s VA demands “strict accountability” and is weeding out poor performers, the bill’s “approach – focused primarily on firing or demoting employees without appropriate or meaningful procedural protections – is misguided and burdensome. This significantly alters and diminishes important rights and protections” essential for workers, OMB added.

Unions representing the VA’s workers strongly oppose the measure, by House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla. Miller claims HR5620 would make it easier to fire non-performing and under-performing workers. HR5620 is one response to past scandals where VA managers falsified records, denied care and delayed appointments to injured vets.

Rather than going after bad VA managers, HR5620 harms the workers who revealed the mess, says American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox, a retired VA psychiatric nurse. Miller’s bill would let “VA managers circumvent longstanding laws that protect the public from a politicized civil service,” the union said. AFGE, which represents most VA workers, supports a bipartisan Senate alternative bill.

“If Congress passes this bill, frontline employees who dare to speak up against mismanagement and patient harm will face retaliation, harassment, and the loss of their jobs,” Cox added. It would give workers less time to contest VA discipline, eliminate appeal rights and kill due process rights, Cox added.

“This is not about improving how we treat and care for our veterans. It’s a partisan effort to allow favoritism and cronyism to govern the VA by turning VA employees, and ultimately every federal worker, into an at-will employee who can be fired at any time with little to no recourse,” Cox said. “Instead of pointing fingers at the people who care for our veterans the most, we should be empowering them.”

Source: PAI