Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) are pressing Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald to quickly fire VA officials involved in the health care scandal, and are asking why nothing has happened several weeks after Congress passed a bill allowing the VA to quickly dismiss or demote employees.
"[W]e stress the importance of taking swift action and using the authority Congress has provided you to quickly remove the senior leaders at the VA who perpetrated the scandal of denied and delayed care for our nation's heroes," they wrote McDonald on Monday.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and his colleague Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) are calling on the VA secretary to start firing employees involved in the health care scandal, and to more quickly implement other parts of recently passed VA reform law. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Emmanuel Lozano)
"Senior VA leaders have… not been held accountable for delaying and denying patient care, silencing and intimidating whistleblowers, and enriching themselves by manipulating wait-time statistics to receive undeserved performance bonuses," they added.
In recent speeches, McDonald has said he wants to use his new authority to dismiss or demote VA workers involved in the scandal. But he has said he would not take this step against any VA employees until several ongoing investigations on the VA are complete.
"We have 100 investigations ongoing, and as those investigations are going on, we are not allowed to take definitive action," he said last week.
But that position seems to defeat the point of the bill Congress passed in late July. That legislation says the VA secretary can dismiss anyone for poor performance — employees have the option of using an appeals process run by the Merit Systems Protection Board.
Even if McDonald used the process, that board has indicated it could try to reverse his decisions. In August, the board published a rule on how it will implement the new law, but said it believes the new process approved by Congress violates the Constitution.
"The Veterans Choice, Access, and Accountability Act included authority for you to terminate the employment of senior executives for their lack of performance in their jobs," the two senators wrote in their letter. "Have you exercised this special authority Congress granted you? If not, why not?"
The question about firing VA employees was just one of several that the two senators asked McDonald about how he is implementing the new law.
Another key question they asked is why the VA seems to have made little progress toward ensuring that all veterans are given a health care card that lets them seek care outside the VA system. It said VA staff in Phoenix, Arizona "appear to be unaware" about how this change will affect the way they deliver care to veterans.
The two senators asked when the VA will put out guidelines for all VA medical centers, and when the VA "Choice Card" will be available to veterans. It also asked several detailed questions about how the VA will let veterans know about their new health care choices.
Read their letter here: