By Reps. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) and Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.).
The Department of Veterans Affairs has been putting on a master class in impunity. We have seen VA employees assist in armed robbery, possess controlled substances and commit a sex offense – yet they have not been fired.
There are some questions that shouldn’t have to be asked. However, during a committee hearing last week we challenged current VA Health Under Secretary David Shulkin to explain why the VA continues to employ an individual charged with armed robbery at the VA Caribbean Healthcare System in Puerto Rico.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs is seen September 23, 2011, on 801 Vermont Avenue N. W. , in Washington, DC. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Initially Under Secretary Shulkin told us the individual was no longer working for the VA. Later during the same hearing, we learned the employee was in fact still employed and working for the VA. The VA explained in a later press release: “As is true in private-sector employment, a Federal employee generally cannot be terminated for off-duty misconduct unless there is a clear connection between the misconduct and the individual’s employment.”
Perhaps the VA was compelled to sweep this employee’s armed robbery charges under the rug in order to protect a host of other VA employees at the same facility involved in serious crimes, including a convicted sex offender, and the hospital director, who was charged in 2014 with driving under the influence and possession of a controlled substance. It seems VA was afraid of setting a double-standard because those two had not been fired for their crimes, so it simply refused to fire the armed-robbery participant despite all of the work she missed while sitting in jail.
It is a broken record. Over and over again, VA leadership has told us they are working on holding their employees accountable. But their actions say the exact opposite.
The VA is telling Congress how an employee entertains themselves when they are off the clock is none of our business — even if it is blatantly illegal behavior endangering them and others.
To state the obvious, when employees fail to show up to work because they are in jail, they no longer can fulfill their duties and the VA has the right and responsibility to terminate their employment. Federal employees paid by your taxpayer dollars should be held to this common sense standard.
The good news is Congress has a solution to the problem. Last summer, the House of Representatives passed the VA Accountability Act, which would give much broader authority and responsibility for the VA to hold their bureaucrats responsible for their actions. Much to our disappointment, the Senate has failed to move that legislation forward. The excuses for the blatant and, at times, criminal behavior of VA employees must stop, and it is long past due for the Senate to send this common sense legislation to the president’s desk.
Once we get this bill to President Obama and Secretary McDonald, they must decide: Do they support accountability and our veterans? Or do they side with the VA employee unions and oppose these common sense reforms?
Despite their threats to veto the legislation, we hope the White House will put the safety and well-being of our veterans first.
Congressman Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) and Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) are members of the House Veterans Affairs’ Committee.