December 1, 2015

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt Shaft
Are there any new proposals by the Congress that will impact benefits for veterans?

Paul G
Via the internet

Dear Paul
The House recently passed two House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs-originated bills:

H.R. 1338, the Dignified Interment of Our Veterans Act of 2015, would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct a study and report back to Congress on the problem of unclaimed remains of deceased veterans and also place a $2 million cap on Fiscal Year 2016 bonuses for VA senior executives.

H.R. 1384, the Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act, would honor as veterans retired National Guard and Reserve personnel who have served 20 years and do not meet the full requirements for veteran status under title 38, United States Code.

The bills now await consideration by the Senate. Following House passage of the bills, Chairman Miller released the below statement.

“Today the House took important steps toward ensuring deceased veterans are treated with respect and dignity, reining in VA’s outrageous, everyone-gets-a-bonus culture and honoring the service of National Guard and Reserve retirees. I applaud my House colleagues for supporting these important measures, and I call on the Senate to act on them as soon as possible.” – Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs


Shaft Notes
The American Legion applauds legislation drafted by Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., that would include veterans in the Department of Transportation’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program.

“This legislation is necessary to provide parity for the nearly 1 million veterans who are small business owners seeking government contracts,” said James Oxford, chairman of the Legion’s Veterans Employment and Education Commission. “Veterans should not be placed at a disadvantage in competing with other government procurement programs.”

It is incorrect to believe that the DBE program is relegated to road and infrastructure firms.

According to the Small Business Administration, veterans own 380,395 construction firms, 64,542 manufacturing companies and 414,519 businesses in the professional, scientific and technical services. Currently, only half of the states meet their DBE goals. Adding veteran small businesses to this program would increase the pool of eligible firms at the states’ disposal.  For states that already meet their goals, this bill does not affect them or the small business contractors they employ.

The U.S. House recently approved H.R. 1694 and passed it on to the Senate for consideration.

“The Fairness to Veterans for Infrastructure Investment Act is a bipartisan, common sense way to update legislation that redresses the exclusion of veteran small businesses at no cost to the taxpayer,” Oxford said. “The American Legion encourages the Senate and the White House to level the playing field for these veterans by turning Rep. Fitzpatrick’s legislation into law.”

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon/VA), has joined a bipartisan group of Senators, led by U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), in introducing the VA Patient Protection Act to force the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to address reports of abuse of veteran patients and to punish VA managers who ignore, intimidate and retaliate against whistleblowers.

“More must be done to change the status quo. We must work to build a VA that embraces, rather than retaliates against, whistleblowers who want to improve the system,” Senator Baldwin said. “We need to ensure that whistleblowers are empowered and this bipartisan reform legislation will hold the VA managers accountable for unacceptable retaliation and intimidation. Most importantly, it will improve the VA so veterans can get the care and services they need and deserve.”

In order to address the challenges faced by VA employees who stand up for veterans, and to punish the managers who retaliate against whistleblowers, the VA Patient Protection Act:

  • Punishes retaliation. After the first offense of retaliation, a supervisor will receive a minimum 12-day suspension. On the second offense, they will be fired.
  • Holds supervisors accountable. Supervisors’ performance ratings will be tied to how they respond to and deal with whistleblower reports and complaints. Supervisors found to retaliate against whistleblowers would not be eligible to receive bonuses for the 1 year period beginning on the date when the determination was made and for the supervisor to must repay bonuses already paid under certain circumstances
  • Protects whistleblowers. Includes a provision Senator Baldwin championed in the MilCon/VA Appropriations Act of 2016, which will expand the Whistleblower Protection Act to prevent retaliation against VA doctors and nurses through performance reports. All VA employees will receive training about their rights as whistleblowers.
  • Ensures complaints are handled properly. Employees who report misconduct can go to the next level supervisor if their immediate supervisor fails to properly handle their complaint. Establishing a formal complaint process ensures there is a paper trail to hold the VA accountable. Creates a Central Whistleblower Office that will be responsible for investigating all whistleblower complaints.

Reports of systemic misconduct and retaliation against whistleblowers are common across the nation, including:

  • Dr. Katherine Mitchell, who first broke the VA wait list scandal, testified before the Senate MilCon/VA Appropriations Subcommittee about how she disclosed improper staffing in the emergency department and secret waitlists at the Phoenix VA. Management retaliated against Dr. Mitchell by removing her as the emergency department director.
  • A doctor at Hines VA fraudulently inflated his productivity by entering service codes for work he did not perform – an allegation substantiated by the VA’s Office of Medical Inspection – but is still employed at Hines and has not been disciplined.
  • After a VA employee in Louisiana discovered secret wait lists and filed complaints with the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG), the OIG failed to investigate the wait lists, but sent criminal investigators to investigate the whistleblower by looking into how he obtained the wait lists, confiscating computer equipment and asking him to submit to a lie detector test.

Joining Senators Baldwin and Kirk in introducing the legislation were U.S. Senators Blumenthal, Grassley, Gillibrand, Johnson, and Rubio.

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