Inhofe, Lankford Introduce Bill to Expand Firing Authority in the VA System

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe and James Lankford (R-Okla.) today introduced the Veterans Affairs Accountability Act (S.2554), legislation expanding authority at the Department of Veterans Affairs to allow directors of Veterans Integrated Services Network (VISN) chapters to remove or demote any VA employee within their network whose performance warrants such action and to authorize VISN directors to contract with an outside entity to conduct investigations of their VA medical facilities. 

“Building upon the sound policy of the 2014 VA reform bill, our legislation grants VA leadership at the regional level the authority to fire any staff that are failing to provide adequate care to veterans,” said Inhofe. “As I have worked to address the many concerns I have with Oklahoma’s VA facilities, I have come to trust the leadership at VISN 19. They conducted two investigations into the Muskogee VA medical facility at the end of last year that resulted in immediate corrective action. Not only were intermediate surgeries suspended due to what they uncovered but also the Chief of Staff has been temporarily removed from his position.  This process, however, revealed that VISN directors are not presently empowered to address staffing concerns in the facilities they oversee. Our legislation peels away the layers of bureaucracy and empowers directors at each VISN to play a larger role with improving the VA system as whole. 

“Men and women who served our nation in uniform deserve quality care. Unfortunately, the VA isn’t always meeting this expectation," said Lankford. “To ensure our veterans receive quality care, we must give our senior officials at the regional level the tools to hold people accountable. Most VA employees perform at the highest standards and I applaud them. But they deserve to work alongside others who share their same high standards. Oklahomans demand the Department of Veterans Affairs fix their problems now. This bill will help bring the VA in line with the expectations of our veterans and fellow Oklahomans.”

The Veterans Affairs Accountability Act builds off a provision in the 2014 VA reform bill that authorizes the VA secretary to remove any VA employee in a Senior Executive Service position upon determining such individual’s performance warrants removal. 

A summary of the Veterans Affairs Accountability Act is as follows: 

VA authority to remove or demote employees based on performance or misconduct: Authorizes the Secretary of the VA to remove or demote any VA employee if the Secretary of the VA determines that their performance or misconduct warrants removal or demotion.  Directs the Secretary of the VA to delegate this authority to each Director of a Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) without any intervening actions required by the Secretary.

Inspection authority of Director of a Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN): Authorizes each Director of a Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) to contract with an appropriate entity specializing in civilian accreditation or health care evaluation to investigate any medical center within their VISN to assess and report deficiencies of those facilities.

Comptroller General Report on Veterans Choice Program: Directs the Comptroller General to provide a report to Congress on the implementation and execution of the Veterans Choice Program by the VA not later than March 1, 2017. The report will included an assessment of the number of veterans enrolled in and receiving care through the Veterans Choice Program; the ability of veterans to fully access the Veterans Choice Program; instances in which veterans have to travel more than 40 miles to receive care; instances in which veterans have been denied care through the Veterans Choice Program; and an analysis of any current policies.

Background: 

On Nov. 30, VISN 19 sent two teams to investigate operations at the Muskogee VA center, one that looked at quality of care and the other that looked at management of the facility. Their visits resulted in the immediate shut down of intermediate surgeries at the Muskogee facility due to issues that were discovered. It also prompted the removal of the facility’s Chief of Staff on Feb. 9, who was temporarily reassigned until the completion of VA’s review of VISN 19’s report. VA Sec. Bob McDonald is expected to brief Inhofe on the results of these inspections in the next few weeks. 

On Dec. 22, Inhofe contacted VISN 19 Network Director Ralph Gigliotti and requested his personal assistance in ensuring proper care is provided to the five veterans identified in the Dec. 23 USA Today article. Inhofe continues to work with the VA on care for these veterans to include addressing existing medical issues and any future medical issues.

VISN 19 Rocky Mountain Network oversees the operations of VA healthcare centers across five states, to include Oklahoma.