A key veterans group is calling on Congress to pass a tough Department of Veterans Affairs reform bill that would allow for the immediate firing of VA officials involved in the healthcare scandal.
Concerned Veterans for America released a letter early Thursday morning that asks House and Senate negotiators to adopt House-passed language on firing VA officials, and said the House language is needed to ensure accountability at the VA.
House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) is negotiating with the Senate on a VA reform bill. Concerned Veterans for America is calling on negotiators to accept the House's language that would make it easier to fire VA officials. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
"A core aspect of this reform is the ability for poor VA managers to be promptly removed for cause," CVA CEO Pete Hegseth wrote to members of the House and Senate. "Any effort to dilute accountability measures must be resisted; and final language should hew closely to the House accountability language."
Members of the House and Senate are in the middle of working out an agreement on a VA reform bill, and new rules on firing VA officials is a major sticking point in that effort. The House has passed legislation that would effectively allow the VA to immediately fire anyone involved in the healthcare scandal, but the Senate will would create a month-long appeal process for officials.
Hegseth's letter said accepting the House language on disciplining VA workers is one way to help ensure the final bill "delivers real reforms, not watered-down half measures."
CVA was one of the main veterans groups that made an early call for the resignation of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, and has continuously highlighted the failure of the VA to fix problems related to healthcare access for veterans.
The group said the final product should also include strong language in three other areas. One deals with setting standards for wait-times.
"The final conference bill must reflect clear standards — no more than 21 days or 60 or less miles — to define what constitutes excessive wait times, or excessive travel, for VA care," the letter said. It stressed that the VA must not be allowed to set its own standards for what constitutes long waiting times or long travel distances before veterans can seek outside medical help.
The letter said the bill must ensure timely reimbursements to veterans' medical providers, and should not simply authorize billions in new spending at the VA.
"While solutions to VA's culture problems are urgent, they should be addressed through real and systemic reforms—not emergency spending," the letter said. "Likewise, to ensure ongoing congressional oversight and VA accountability, any spending associated with this reform legislation should be discretionary and highly scrutinized."
That last point again points to support for the House-passed bill, which gives Congress much more oversight of the embattled VA.
Republican senators argued in June that the Senate will would cost about half a trillion dollars over the next decade, and said it could lead to permanent increases in spending for an agency that should instead be subject to tighter fiscal discipline.
Even as House-Senate negotiations continue, the House Veterans' Affairs Committee is continuing to collect evidence about the healthcare scandal and efforts to cover it up. Tuesday night, the committee heard from four whistleblowers who said they were harassed and demoted after calling out problems in the VA healthcare system.
Read CVA's letter here: