Wicker Praises Senate Action on VA Reform

Bill Would Empower VA Secretary to Implement Greater Accountability

June 12, 2017

The first week in June marked the anniversaries of two significant World War II events: D-Day and the Battle of Midway.  It was also an appropriate time for important legislation.  On June 6, the Senate passed the “Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act,” taking another significant step forward in the ongoing reform of the VA system.

We can never truly repay the brave soldiers who stormed the shores of Normandy or decisively confronted a Japanese fleet in the Pacific, turning the tides of World War II toward an Allied victory.  But we can ensure that these troops – and the men and women who have followed in their footsteps – receive the high-quality care and benefits they deserve for their service.

That requires an efficient and effective VA system, making every effort to eliminate persistent problems and rampant mismanagement.  By enacting the “Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act” in 2014, Congress has already put in place some necessary measures to improve the system and its leadership.  For example, the law gave the VA Secretary the authority to remove poor-performing senior executives expeditiously.  It also instructed the VA to establish disciplinary action in its human resources policies for the falsification of data concerning patient care.

The new bill, which I have cosponsored, adds to those reforms.  The VA Secretary would have more flexibility to discipline or remove employees who are not upholding the department’s best practices and delivering quality care.  It would also strengthen measures to protect whistleblowers from retaliation for reporting problems.  The VA Secretary should have the tools to implement staffing changes that can bring change and a culture of accountability.  Under this bill, any VA employee engaging in misconduct would be subject to an expedited removal process.

The Senate bill still needs to be passed by the House of Representatives and signed by President Trump.  But its support by outside groups has been enthusiastic.  The legislative director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an organization with nearly 200,000 post-9/11 veterans, has called it “the strongest VA accountability measure that can be signed into law.”

With nearly 200,000 veterans in our state, Mississippians understand the obligations of military service as well as the care and respect owed to our service members in return.  The late G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery, who represented Mississippi in Congress for 30 years, was a steadfast champion for our veterans.  He knew the sacrifice of military service, having served in World War II and the Korean War.  His legacy and the momentous enactment of the Montgomery GI Bill continues to inspire those of us seeking the best benefits for our veterans today.

Other needed improvements to the VA system are coming at the same time as reforms for greater accountability.  On June 5, VA Secretary David J. Shulkin announced his decision on a next-generation Electronic Health Record system for veterans.  The VA will no longer use a system separate from the Department of Defense but adopt the same technology.  With health records in a unified system, veterans can receive more comprehensive treatment and care. I have been an advocate for this type of system for years.

The future of our all-volunteer military is linked to the care we extend to our veterans today.  As an Air Force veteran myself and as an elected official representing our state’s many veterans, I remain committed to keeping our promises to those who serve this country.  I will continue my work in Congress to ensure the VA system does a better job of meeting the needs of America’s heroes.