WASHINGTON – The union representing 230,000 employees in the Department of Veterans Affairs, the American Federation of Government Employees, is urging House members to oppose a bill that would undermine veterans’ health care and other services by gutting employees’ due process rights.
The bill, HR 5620, introduced by Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, would allow VA managers to circumvent longstanding laws that protect the public from a politicized civil service by providing VA employees due process rights to challenge wrongful firing, whistleblower retaliation, and discrimination on the basis of veteran status.
“If Congress passes this bill, frontline employees who dare to speak up against mismanagement and patient harm will face retaliation, harassment, and the loss of their jobs,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said.
The bill would reduce response times regarding notices of proposed removals and appeals of disciplinary decisions to the Merit Systems Protection Board, eliminate MSPB appeal rights if the board is unable to meet the shorter timeframes, and eliminate certain due process rights for employees facing removal based on performance evaluations.
“This legislation is not about improving how we treat and care for our veterans. It’s a partisan effort to allow favoritism and cronyism to govern the VA by turning VA employees, and ultimately every federal worker, into an at-will employee who can be fired at any time with little to no recourse,” Cox said.
A far better VA reform bill, S 2921, has the bipartisan support of Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chair Johnny Isakson of Georgia and ranking member Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
Although the Senate bill isn’t perfect, AFGE supports this compromise legislation because it will provide real accountability at the VA without undermining the apolitical federal civil service.