WASHINGTON – An attempt by Senator Marco Rubio yesterday to bring up the misleadingly-named VA Accountability Act (S. 1082) under unanimous consent failed as colleagues, led by Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal, immediately protested voting on the extreme legislation.
The measure would eliminate many of the basic workplace rights of every VA employee and give managers the discretion to fire any employee with little notice or recourse. This comes just one year after it was revealed that managers had fiercely retaliated against employees who exposed secret waitlists at VA medical centers across the country. In addition, the bill would increase terminations of recently hired veterans in the VA by extending the probationary period from one year to 18 months or longer. Probationary employees have no appeal rights, no right to improve their performance, and no right to advance notice of proposed termination.
Thousands of AFGE members called to urge their Senators to oppose Senator Rubio’s attempt to destroy civil service protections. If enacted, this bill would severely weaken the Department’s ability to expand and improve services to veterans by undermining VA’s efforts to fill more than 40,000 vacancies, including more than 30,000 unfilled physicians, nurse and other clinical provider positions. In addition, S. 1082 would undermine other ongoing VA transformation initiatives including the work of the Commission on Care, and the Congressional mandate that the VA develop a plan to consolidate all non-VA care programs by November 1st.
“Senator Rubio’s bill hurts veterans and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “You simply can’t fire your way to a solution. Our veterans and VA workforce need legislation that will address the root causes of VA’s troubles: inadequate staffing levels and mismanagement. Employees need protection from retaliation when they speak up for veterans. Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s bill, S. 1856, is the right tool for the job.”
S. 1856 is the only legislation before the Senate VA Committee that provides a multi-faceted, commonsense approach to ensuring real accountability. The bill gives managers broader authority to address dangers in the workplace, adds new whistleblower protections, limits paid administrative leave and curbs revolving door relationships between VA employees and contractors. In contrast to the slash-and-burn, extremist proposals in S. 1082, Senator Blumenthal’s bill holds the few bad apples responsible while preserving the basic due process rights of honest, hardworking employees who serve veterans with distinction every day.