In 2014, the public learned from whistleblowers that government employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, kept “secret waiting lists” to hide long waits for care at their facilities.
Dozens of Veterans died waiting for care as a result.
Since that watershed, there has been a torrent of revelations about misconduct at the department.
We learned that the Phoenix VA was not the only hospital to use secret waitlists. The problem was “systemic” across the VA system.
We learned of multiple instances where VA bureaucrats retaliated against whistleblowers for exposing malfeasance. Gallingly, the VA Inspector General’s Office reacted with “hostility” to whistleblowers and worked to “minimize” their allegations.
In other words, the very office charged with investigating misconduct at the VA was covering up misconduct at the VA.
These findings exposed a government agency whose dysfunction was hurting the nation’s Veterans, in some cases driving them to despair. Last year, Navy Veteran Charles Richard Ingram III burned himself to death outside a chronically understaffed VA clinic.
Revelations like these forced President Barack Obama’s VA secretary to resign.
But a change in leadership is no substitute for a permanent change in policy. Which is why I am pleased that the Senate passed a bipartisan bill last week to hold the VA accountable.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, sponsored by my colleague Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is a step in the right direction.
It expands the power of the VA secretary to reprimand and fire bureaucrats who are guilty of misconduct. At the same time, it restricts the bureaucracy’s power to punish employees who blow the whistle about misconduct at the department.
The bill requires the VA to report to Congress on how it manages its employees, including disciplinary actions it takes against them. That way we can keep an eye on the department going forward.
The bill has been endorsed by the nation’s most important Veterans groups, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Concerned Veterans for America.
When men and women enlist in America’s armed forces, we make a solemn compact to back them up during and after their service. As recent VA scandals have shown, we have not been living up to our end of the bargain.
The bill passed by the Senate last week is a first step toward making amends.