Republican Lawmakers Sound Alarm Over Alleged Misconduct at VA Medical Center

Republican Lawmakers Sound Alarm Over Alleged Misconduct at VA Medical Center
Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaks during a hearing on worldwide threats in Washington on March 8, 2023. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
Ross Muscato

Republican members of Congress are criticizing and calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to explain why it is not using the administrative tools and options it has available to terminate the employment of workers who cause problems and undermine the delivery of care and the proper operation of VA medical facilities.

In their complaint and inquiry, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.), and House Committee on Veterans Affairs Chairman Mike Bost (R-Ill.) and Rep. Jay Obernolte (R-Calif) say that the Biden administration has chosen to disregard the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 that Sen. Rubio sponsored and which President Donald Trump signed into law.

Rep. Jay Obernolte (R-Calif.). (Office of Rep. Jay Obernolte)
Rep. Jay Obernolte (R-Calif.). (Office of Rep. Jay Obernolte)

The act came after years of VA employee scandals and corruption, and intended to shield and protect those informing on misconduct in the VA and make it easier to fire bad VA employees.

“We write with concern that, starting April 3, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will begin to disregard current law under the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 (P.L. 115-41),” wrote Rubio and Daines in a letter dated March 30 that they sent to Department of Defense (DoD) Secretary Denis McDonough. “This bipartisan law protects whistleblowers at the VA and provides the Secretary with the authority to hold bad VA employees accountable by allowing the dismissal of employees for poor performance or misconduct.”

The letter continued: “Our nation’s veterans deserve only the best and most qualified employees serving them when they seek assistance from the VA. We are concerned that the VA is making excuses for employees’ poor performance and putting bureaucratic interests ahead of veterans’ well-being.”

Bost and Obernolte issued a statement on April 12 that referenced a letter they sent two days before to Secretary McDonough. The statement and letter pointed to a complaint about employee misconduct at the Loma Linda VA Medical Center in Virginia and how the Biden administration’s decision to use the Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act no longer deprives the VA of an option and avenue to use to fire the worker.

“The purpose of the bipartisan Accountability Act is to give the VA Secretary the tools to ensure that the VA workforce is the best, and that employee misconduct and poor performance are a thing of the past,” said Bost in the release. “Yet, the Committee continues to hear reports that this is not the case, most recently at the Loma Linda VA Medical Center where a toxic supervisor continues to be employed following multiple investigations over three years into their misconduct and recommendations that they be removed.”

Bost continued: “As Chairman, that is unacceptable to me. Which is why I’m proud to lead this letter demanding answers from the Biden administration with my friend from California, Rep. Obernolte. Our veterans, the dedicated VA workforce, and taxpayers deserve to know why bad employees are still employed by VA and accountability is being swept under the rug.”

Response of Biden Administration and VA

The Biden administration has responded to and countered the charges that it is ignoring the Accountability and Whistleblower Act, citing court decisions striking down authority in the law and narrowing its application.

The courts have particularly targeted Section 14 of the act as unfairly weakening worker protection. Fired employees successfully challenged the section and were rehired.

The VA released a statement in response to the letter that Bost and Obernolte sent McDonough.

“We have received the letter from Chairman Bost and Rep. Obernolte and will respond appropriately to their letter,” said the statement. “At VA, our top priority remains providing Veterans with world-class care and benefits—and that means creating a work environment where our employees feel comfortable, confident, and welcome.

“We hold all of our employees accountable to this standard, and we have the tools we need to act when necessary. We are investigating these allegations and will handle appropriately.”