WASHINGTON – Today, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the largest union representing over 280,000 VA employees nationwide, commended the recent introduction of the Protecting VA Employees Act (H.R. 6682), sponsored by Representatives Connor Lamb (PA-17) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-1) to protect VA workers from being improperly fired or disciplined.
The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 was intended to protect employees who come forward to report systemic issues at the VA and to hold agency leadership accountable for mismanagement. Instead, it has been used to systematically and wrongfully fire thousands of low-level VA employees for minor infractions.
The Protecting VA Employees Act would address this issue by making two key changes to the “Accountability Act.”
First, it would restore the power of the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) and arbitrators to reduce any employee punishment imposed by the VA, if they conclude after hearing the evidence the punishment is too harsh. Restoring this power will prevent the VA from imposing either unnecessary or unduly severe penalties, with the knowledge that unfair punishments will be overturned and that the appeals process will be potentially costly and time-consuming if the agency overreaches.
“For years, our union has pointed out how the previous administration used the Accountability Act to fire thousands of low-level employees, many of whom are veterans themselves,” said AFGE National President Everett Kelley. “It is our hope that restoring the ability of a neutral, third-party to reduce unjust punishments will prevent future VA managers from taking punitive or retaliatory actions against employees.”
Second, the legislation would restore the previous evidentiary standard that applied when an employee appeals a disciplinary action, changing it back to a “preponderance of the evidence” standard versus the current “substantial evidence” standard. This change places a higher burden of proof on the VA to show that an employee committed the alleged misconduct, and that the penalty is reasonable under the circumstances.
“We thank representatives Lamb and Fitzpatrick for standing with VA workers. Under the previous administration, the employees tasked with caring for our nation’s veterans had a target on their backs and were terminated at an alarming rate,” said AFGE National VA Council President Alma Lee. “With this fix in the law, employees can rest assured that if discipline is proposed, they will have a fair process for pursuing appeals and continuing their careers serving veterans.”