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H.R. 5620 (114th): VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act of 2016

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The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Sep 14, 2016.

VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act of 2016

This bill authorizes the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to remove or demote a VA employee based on performance or misconduct and provides that specified federal employee performance appraisal provisions shall not apply to such removals or demotions. The VA may remove such individual from the civil service or demote the individual through a reduction in grade or annual pay rate.

A demoted individual shall not be placed on administrative leave or any other category of paid leave during the appeals period and can receive pay only if he or she reports for duty.

An expedited appeals process is established under which: (1) an employee shall have the right to an appeal before the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) within seven days of removal or demotion, (2) the MSPB shall issue a decision within 60 days of the appeal or the removal or demotion becomes final, (3) an MSPB decision and any final removal or demotion may be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, and (4) the MSPB may not stay any removal or demotion.

The VA may not remove or demote an employee: (1) without the approval of the Special Counsel if the individual seeks corrective action from the Office of Special Counsel based on an alleged prohibited personnel practice, and (2) until a final decision in the case of a whistle blower complaint.

The VA shall reduce the federal annuity of an individual removed from the VA Senior Executive Service (SES) who is convicted of a felony that influenced his or her performance while employed in such position.

The VA may reduce the federal annuity of an individual who was convicted of such a felony and was subject to removal or transfer from the SES but who left the VA before final action was taken.

The VA may recoup an award, a bonus, or relocation expenses paid to a VA employee under specified circumstances.

The VA may suspend, reprimand or admonish an SES employee for misconduct or performance that does not merit removal. The VA must notify an individual 10 days before taking such proposed action. Appeals may be made to the Senior Executive Disciplinary Appeals Board (as provided for by this bill) and may not be appealed to the MSPB.

The bill establishes an additional whistle blower complaint process, which shall include suspension and removal actions against supervisory employees who commit prohibited personnel actions against a whistle blower.

The bill amends the disability benefits appeals process.

The bill amends the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 to prohibit payment of an award or bonus to any SES employee during each of FY2017-FY2021.

The bill requires that a veteran enrolled in the VA health care program who requests a medical examination or treatment at an emergency department of a VA medical facility be provided with a medical screening examination to determine whether an emergency medical condition exists and, if so, be provided stabilizing medical treatment or a transfer to another VA or non-VA medical facility.

If a non-stabilized emergency medical condition exists, the VA hospital may not transfer the veteran unless: (1) the veteran, after being made aware of the risks, makes a written transfer request; or (2) a physician (or a qualified medical person if a physician is not present) certifies that the medical benefits of a transfer outweigh the risks.

The VA may not take adverse action against a VA employee because the employee refuses to authorize the transfer of an enrolled veteran with a non-stabilized emergency medical condition or because the employee reports a violation of a requirement of this bill.

The bill establishes the positions of Directors of Veterans Integrated Service Networks.

The VA shall require a VA employee (including a temporary full-time, part-time, or without-compensation employee) who is authorized to prescribe any controlled substance to complete at least one accredited continuing education course on pain management every two years. Such requirement: (1) shall apply to an employee who is employed by the VA for at least 180 days during any 24-month period; and (2) shall not apply to an employee licensed or certified by a state licensure or specialty board that requires the completion of pain management or substance use disorder management continuing education.

During each calendar quarter, the VA shall review each covered whistle blower complaint filed with the Office of the Special Counsel during the previous quarter.

The VA shall identify: (1) the number of members of the Armed Forces who are physicians working part-time in VA facilities, and (2) the process by which such physicians are hired.

The VA may disclose to non-VA entities that provide hospital care or medical treatment to veterans records of the identity, diagnosis, prognosis, or treatment of any patient in connection with a program relating to drug abuse, alcoholism or alcohol abuse, infection with the human immunodeficiency virus, or sickle cell anemia.

The Veterans Benefits Act of 2003 is amended to extend through 2017 VA authority to provide for the performance of medical disability evaluations by contract physicians.

Any person who is entitled to retired pay for non-regular (reserve) service or who, but for age, would be so entitled shall be honored as a veteran. A person shall not be entitled to any benefit by reason of such recognition.

The VA may: (1) furnish rehabilitative equipment to any veteran who is entitled to a prosthetic appliance, and (2) appoint licensed hearing aid specialists to the Veterans Health Administration.