WASHINGTON – New legislation introduced in the House and Senate this week has been met with fierce opposition by the union that represents 230,000 VA employees. The VA Accountability First Act of 2017 – H.R. 1259 introduced by Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee – and the VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act of 2017 – S. 493 introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida – pits VA officials and managers against frontline employees at the nation’s largest integrated health care system.
American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr., who served as a VA nurse for more than 20 years, immediately decried the proposed legislation, saying:
“Once again, some lawmakers have completely ignored the evidence that the VA provides veterans the best – and only – integrated healthcare system tailored entirely to their needs. Instead of hiring the more than 45,000 frontline caregivers are veterans desperately need, they’d rather spend their time sticking it to the people who serve veterans every day.”
In addition to the punitive measures that could be used against future whistleblowers at the VA, the VA Accountability First Acts destroy the right of every VA front line employee to use union grievance procedures to efficiently and fairly address proposed adverse actions. The egregious proposal would leave VA frontline employees – 120,000 of which are veterans themselves – with only a rushed management-run appeals process. Not only that, but all frontline employees and managers would be left with weaker rights to appeal to the Merit System Protection Board (MSPB) – their first chance at an independent review.
If enacted, the bills could inhibit the recruitment and retention of frontline workers who are already in dire need at the agency, which was noted in a signed letter from Cox to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Chairman Roe and Ranking Member Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota.
“The VA Accountability First Act of 2017 is a union-busting bill – plain and simple. It will only advance the agenda of the Koch brothers, anti-union lawmakers, and private, for-profit corporations that would reap the benefits of a dismantled VA medical system. Backhanded efforts to eliminate employees’ workplace rights does nothing to improve the VA or veterans’ care. In fact, it leaves nation’s veterans without the advocates who are empowered to speak up on their behalf every day.
“Every lawmaker who is willing to put veterans and their country above politics should oppose this bill. Veterans and all Americans should be able to get the true story of what is happening at the VA, and if this bill passes it will only ensure that VA officials and managers can be shielded from public scrutiny.”