AFGE Condemns House Panel’s Decision to Allow VA to Fire Employees at Will

Categories: VA

The House Veterans Affairs Committee has only one job: make sure our country’s veterans are taken care of. But on Wednesday it did the opposite. The panel voted to allow retaliation and discrimination against the very people who take care of our veterans. That means VA employees can no longer bring up issues that hurt veterans such as understaffing and mismanagement without the fear of being fired.

H.R. 1994, introduced by Committee Chairman Jeff Miller of Florida, now heads to the House floor with a vote scheduled at the end of this month. The committee passed the bill based on wrong information and the assumption that it’s difficult to discipline employees. In reality, VA fired nearly 2,600 employees for cause in FY 2014.

If approved by the Senate and signed into law, the misguided bill would set the clock on workers’ rights back more than 100 years by subjecting VA employees to the whims of the VA secretary, a political appointee. Other serious damage that this bill would do:

  • Strip fundamental due process rights and workplace protections from every VA employee including the very frontline workers and whistleblowers who can hold management accountable for mismanaging veteran health care or harming veterans. The civil service protections that would be taken away include the right to 30 days’ advance notice before an adverse action may be imposed, the right to seven days for the employee to respond, the right to a representative, and the right to a written decision.
  • Impose longer probationary periods from one year to 18 months or longer, subjecting more veterans in the VA workforce to unfounded or discriminatory terminations.
  • Give the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) a new function of reviewing terminations, which would divert resources away from investigating claims of retaliation and discrimination. OSC is simply not well equipped or funded to pre-approve the removal of every whistleblower.
  • Cause significant numbers of doctors and other employees in shortage occupations to leave the VA or reject a future VA career. 

“AFGE is gravely concerned about widespread misperceptions regarding the need for H.R. 1994 and its potential impact on the VA.  For example, Chairman Miller regularly asserts that it is too difficult to terminate VA employees…. VA fired nearly 2,600 employees for cause in FY 2014. Indeed, VA’s termination-for-cause rates (as a percentage of the total workforce) are substantially higher than those of the Army, Navy, or Air Force,” said AFGE Legislative Director Beth Moten in a letter to members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Chairman Miller also inaccurately describes H.R. 1994 as a tool for holding VA executives accountable for mismanagement, but in fact, this bill strips due process rights away from every non-management VA employee, including over 100,000 veterans in the VA workforce.

The bill was adopted by the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity in June.

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