News Releases

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Isakson Doubles Down on Commitment to Increasing Accountability at the VA

Highlights ongoing legislative efforts to hold senior executives at VA accountable

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, today reaffirmed his commitment to improving accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) through legislation that will make it easier for VA leaders to remove bad actors at the department.

“[The VA] needs to be accountable to… the veterans of the United States of America and show them that if we’ve got a bad egg in the executive leadership of the VA that we are going to correct that problem and get a good employee in their place,” said Isakson at a legislative hearing held today.

Isakson emphasized the importance of removing the overly bureaucratic Merit Systems Protection Board from the accountability process for senior executives at the VA. Recently, the Merit Systems Protection Board overturned disciplinary action against three executives at the VA, including two senior executives at the Veterans Benefits Administration who had been demoted.

Isakson also suggested reclassifying senior executives so that they appeal disciplinary decisions directly to VA leadership, skipping the Merit Systems Protection Board step. Reclassifying the executives would also allow the VA to pay them and recruit more competitively.

“There is no intention of this committee to have any negative impact on career civil servants of the VA, but it is clearly our goal to see to it there’s a mechanism for the secretary to hire the professionals that he needs to run the VA and perform the medical services within the VA…, and where there is a problem, the secretary also has the ability for discipline and the ability for future employment depending on the merits of the case that he determines, not determined by some third party,” said Isakson.

A proposal from VA Secretary Robert McDonald would only remove the Merit Systems Protection Board appeals process for executives at the Veterans Health Administration, not for all senior executives at the department.

Isakson noted that the committee is crafting a comprehensive package that will include provisions to improve accountability at the VA by reclassifying executives, as well as provisions to improve health care and benefits at the VA.

“Our goal is to have an omnibus bill that this committee, Democrat and Republican alike, agrees to… [so we can] let our veterans know that we do want accountability in the VA. We do want the Veterans Choice Program to work. We do want caregivers providing care to those injured prior to 9/11/2001 to have the same benefits of those afterwards, and all the other things that we’ve worked upon and we’re close to getting there,” said Isakson.

In addition to the accountability proposal, the committee examined legislation that will create a pilot program to expedite veterans’ appeals, as well as legislation to consolidate the VA’s non-VA programs into the Choice Program.

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The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 114th Congress.
Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate VA Committee since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the military as well as more than 750,000 veterans.