On June 23 last year, President Trump signed into law the Veterans Affairs Accountability Act, promising to help the VA get rid of unethical managers and help veterans get their health care faster. The act came into existence allegedly due to the wait list scandal in which managers manipulated the data to qualify for big bonuses.
But one year after the bill became law, it has been a massive failure – as we predicted. Instead of making the VA more efficient, it's created even more damage to this massive agency that takes care of nine million veterans every year. The worst part is, despite the efforts of some lawmakers like Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-P) to repeal the bill, the administration is trying to implement this law governmentwide
"Over a year ago we said that bill would lead to frontline workers being targeted and intimidated by management seeking to cover up their own malfeasance, and a year later we are being proven right. The Accountability Act has been used to silence whistleblowers, retaliate against workers, and fire veterans,” said AFGE Legislative Director Tom Kahn.
Here are six things the law has produced one year later:
1. Unfair firings of low-level employees
The law was meant to be a tool to help the agency get rid of unethical managers, but instead it has been used to empower managers to fire low-level employees. According to official numbers, of the 912 employees fired in the first quarter of 2018, only one was a high-level VA employee. The same thing happened last year. After the law took effect in June, firings went up 60%. Of the 1,704 employees removed in the second half of 2017, only four were top officials – the rest were low-level employees like housekeepers, food service workers, and nursing assistants.
Bad managers who are facing serious allegations like this one and this one are simply reassigned as “people in management automatically support one another regardless of the actual circumstances that are taking place."
2. Cracking down on veterans
Many of these lower-level jobs are occupied by veterans and disabled veterans. But managers are using the law to fire first time offenders, those missing deadlines or moving slowly after an injury – hardly an offense that warrants immediate termination. Many veterans got their VA jobs through the VA’s Compensated Work Therapy program, which provides jobs to veterans with mental illnesses or physical disabilities who would otherwise have had difficulties finding a job. Veterans report having to go back to counseling as the new law has caused enormous stress and triggered their post-traumatic stress disorder.
3. Unattainable work standards
Employees report that managers have substantially increased work load and ended Performance Improvement Plans that had been used to help employees improve their work performance. This is hardly the intent of the law.
4. Toxic work environment
Even former VA secretary David Shulkin admitted he was open to legislative changes after being presented with examples of managers misusing the law. “If the law is being used inappropriately to create fear and a bad work environment, that’s not good for our veterans or employees,” he said.
5. Tens of thousands of vacancies
Any law that allows reckless firings is bad news for the VA, which is struggling to fill more than 33,000 positions nationwide. Coupled with years of pay and retirement cuts and politicians’ misinformation campaign against the federal workforce, the “accountability” law has made it difficult for the VA to recruit the best and brightest to take care of our veterans.
6. Tax dollars wasted
Firing people without much evidence or cause or refusing to give them a chance to improve wastes time and taxpayer dollars on hiring and training.
The VA has created an office to implement the law. Higher firing numbers, however, don’t necessarily mean more accountability; it depends on who is getting fired and why. Besides, accountability starts at the top. So, who is being held accountable for the complete failure of this law?