The U.S. House sent President Trump a bill Tuesday that will make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to discipline and fire bad employees and better protect those who report misconduct. The new VA accountability law is long overdue, according to members of Colorado’s congressional delegation.
“The vast majority of VA employees are hardworking people that are committed to take care of our veterans with the respect they deserve,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Yuma who was one of the bill’s 39 co-sponsors in the Senate. “However, we have heard far too many stories about a few bad employees that have mistreated our heroes and provided inferior levels of care.”
Lawmakers are in none too forgiving a mood toward the VA’s history in Aurora, where massive cost overruns and long delays have plagued hospital construction there. Just last week the Justice Department announced it would not prosecute VA executives accused of misleading Congress about cost overruns.
S. 1094 passed the the Senate two days earlier, on June 6, where it also has the support of Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Denver.
“Unfortunately, based on the experiences of many Colorado veterans, it is clear that we cannot uphold our promise to them without increased accountability at the VA,” Bennet said in a statement at the time. “The legislation we passed today will improve the quality and timeliness of care while also protecting those who work every day to serve our veterans. Our veterans deserve to know the people responsible for their care are held to high standards, and that if those standards aren’t met, there is a clear path forward.”
Gardner said the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act “provides another needed step in cleaning up the VA to ensure our veterans always have the highest levels of care available.”
Gardner tried in vain to tack on an amendment to go after the pensions of those guilty of gross negligence or mismanaging funds.
He cited the case of Glenn Haggstrom, the construction chief for the new VA hospital in Aurora that oversaw cost overruns up to five times the original budget until his resignation in 2015.
Gardner also cited the legislation he and other members of the Colorado delegation worked on to try to get the Aurora project back on track.
“The VA’s shoddy treatment of some veterans is a shameful stain on America,” Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado Springs said in a statement. “It’s time to clean house in the VA and remove the negligent employees that are harming our heroes. That’s why one of the first actions I took this year was to introduce VA accountability legislation. I have called on my colleagues in the House and Senate to enact stricter measures to control the hiring and firing of misbehaving employees and improve veterans’ care.”
Lamborn, a Trump ally, shared his congratulations with the White House.
“Fortunately, we now have a president and a VA secretary who are dedicated to fixing the problems,” he said. “When we make accountability a reality, we will restore honor, integrity, and trust to the relationship between the VA and our nation’s brave veterans.”
Rep. Mike Coffman, the Republican from Aurora and a combat veteran, called the proposed law a good first step.
“The VA has consistently failed to meet our nation’s obligations to the men and women who have made tremendous sacrifices in defense of our freedoms…” Coffman said. “Time and time again, I have called and worked for reforms in the VA, an organization that has been mired in a culture of corruption and bureaucratic incompetence. While there is a lot more to get done, today we took a significant step in the right direction.”