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S. 1094 (115th): Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017

A string of scandals hit the Department of Veterans Affairs in the past few years, including dozens of veterans dying while waiting for care within the required 14 days at VA hospitals, forcing President Obama’s VA Secretary to resign. A new bill that recently passed the Senate aims to crack down on such neglect. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, S. 1094, to crack down.

The context and what the bill does

A series of exposes and reports in 2013–14 revealed the extent of neglect and coverup at veterans’ hospitals. They not only showed that veterans were often not getting the care they were entitled to under the law within the amount of time required, but also that staff would falsify reports to mislead and create the impression that everything was fine.

This culminated in an FBI criminal investigation, the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, and enactment of legislation. However, many believe that the original legislation enacted did not fulfill its promise. VA employees who have since been caught stealing prescription drug medications, committing armed robbery, and viewing pornography on work computers were not dismissed.

What the bill does

As three Congress members wrote in a joint op-ed for the Military Times, “It was a good step toward reform, but unfortunately, our efforts to ensure accountability were watered down to placate government unions and further weakened by court rulings. Unions have rigged the system, and as a consequence, incompetence and corruption are still prevalent at the VA and few bad employees have been fired.”

This bill aims to close such loopholes through several measures. It allows the VA Secretary to fire incompetent or rule-breaking employees through an expedited appeals process, speeding up a process that has allowed guilty employees to remain on the job for years. It also expands the secretary’s authority to fire lower level staff, not just senior managers as the previous law allowed. And it makes it easier to take away such employees’ pensions or bonuses.

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the bill fixes unintended consequences of the 2014 legislation, and will help ensure that American veterans receive the health care and support they deserve.

“To fully reform the VA and provide our nation’s veterans with the quality care they were promised and deserve, we must ensure the department can efficiently dismiss employees who are not able or willing to do their jobs,” Senate lead sponsor Rubio said in a press release. “We must make real changes that put the well-being of our service members before the best interests of bureaucrats.”

President Trump also supports the legislation. “Senate passed the VA Accountability Act. The House should get this bill to my desk ASAP!” he tweeted. “We can’t tolerate substandard care for our vets.” (Trump used the shorthand name for the bill, presumably to fit within the 140 character limit.)

Trump’s VA Secretary David Shulkin also expressed his support, calling it necessary. “I wish today I could tell you I have the tools to do the right thing, to be able to remove those employees. I do not.,” Shulkin said in a Senate subcommittee hearing. “So unfortunately, I need a new set of tools if I’m going to be held accountable for turning this system around and doing what we all want to do to serve veterans.

Odds of passage

The bill passed the Senate on June 6 by a voice vote, meaning no recording of individual votes was made and usually indicating a lack of significant opposition. The original 2014 reform law — the Veterans Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 — passed almost unanimously: by 91–3 in the Senate and 420–5 in the House before being signed by President Obama.

The current bill attracted 39 Senate cosponsors, 31 Republicans and seven Democrats. It next moves to the House.

Last updated Jun 14, 2017. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jun 24, 2017.

Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017


(Sec. 101) This bill establishes in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection which shall advise the VA on all matters relating to accountability, including VA employee accountability, whistle-blower disclosures and related retaliation, and senior executive service (SES) and supervisory misconduct.

The office shall be headed by an Assistant Secretary for Accountability and Whistleblower Protection.

(Sec. 102) The bill revises whistle-blower protections.

The VA shall develop supervisory performance criteria that include whistle-blower protection and provide employees with whistle-blower disclosure and merit system protection training.


(Sec. 201) The bill revises VA authority to remove certain employees or senior executives for reasons of misconduct or performance, including to permit such individuals to be reprimanded or suspended.

(Sec. 202) The VA may remove, demote, or suspend other VA employees based on performance or misconduct. The VA may also remove or suspend such employee from the civil service or demote the employee through a reduction in grade and salary.

A demoted individual may not be placed on administrative leave during an appeal period, and may receive pay only if he or she reports for duty or is approved to use certain leave. A demoted individual who does not report for duty or receive leave approval shall not receive pay or other benefits.

The VA shall issue a final written decision with respect to a removal, demotion, or suspension within 15 business days after the individual has been provided with notice and an evidentiary file.

The bill establishes an expedited appeals process, including the right to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board and the right to appeal a board decision to a U.S. Court of Appeals or to any court of appeals of competent jurisdiction.

The VA may not remove, demote, or suspend an employee who: (1) is seeking corrective action from the Office of Special Counsel based on discrimination without the office's approval, and (2) has made a whistle-blower disclosure to the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection until a final determination of the case has been made.

(Sec. 203) The VA shall reduce the federal annuity of an individual removed from the 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 bill provides for appeals to the Office of Personnel Management.

(Sec. 204) The VA may recoup an award, a bonus, or relocation expenses paid to a VA employee under specified circumstances.

(Sec. 206) The bill shortens a supervisor's time to respond to a notice of an adverse action from 14 days to 10 days.

(Sec. 207) The VA may directly appoint qualifying individuals to the positions of Medical Center Director and Director of Veterans Integrated Service Network.

(Sec. 208) The bill revises time periods for adverse action reviews for physicians, dentists, podiatrists, chiropractors, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants, and expanded-function dental auxiliaries.

(Sec. 209) The VA shall provide supervisors with periodic training regarding whistle-blower rights, hostile work environments, and managing underperforming employees.