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One year later, lawmaker says the broken VA still suffers from a 'widespread lack of accountability

House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., right, questions Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 11, 2014, during the committee's hearing investigating the deal that secured the end of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's five-year captivity. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C. is at left. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) AP Photo/Susan Walsh

The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee said Thursday that a full year after the extent of the Department of Veterans Affairs health care scandal was revealed to Congress, the VA is still a total mess when it comes to holding its employees accountable for that scandal.

"VA's chief problem – a widespread lack of accountability among failed employees – is as prevalent today as it was a year ago," Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said Thursday. "In fact, in the wake of the biggest scandal in VA history, which centered on appointment wait time manipulation, not a single VA senior executive has been fired for wait time issues."

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., holds up two pages of resource requests from the Department of Veterans Affairs on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 24, 2014, as he questions Department of Veterans Affairs acting secretary Sloan Gibson on how to restore trust to the beleaguered agency. (AP Photo) AP Photo House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) says that a full year after Congress first had solid confirmation of major problems at the VA, very little has been done to hold top VA officials accountable. AP Photo

Last year, Congress gave the VA the authority to fire corrupt or negligent officials. But in the several months following the passage of that law, only a handful of senior officials have actually been fired, and none were let go specifically because of their role in the health care scandal.

Several others have been allowed to retire, and Miller pointed out that some officials, including those in Phoenix, are still on paid leave.

"Everyone knows accountability is a major problem at VA, and right now the department needs to work with Congress to ensure VA has every tool possible to swiftly hold problem employees accountable," he said.

Miller added that while no one believed the change would come quickly, the VA has refused to hold officials accountable, and is still having problems protecting whistleblowers. Miller's committee will hold a hearing next week to discuss the record number of whistleblower retaliation claims that have been lodged recently.

"It's simply naïve to think these issues will subside in the absence of the thorough housecleaning the department desperately needs."

Aside from just holding people accountable, the VA seems to have made very little progress in actually reducing wait times for veterans seeking health care. According to an AP study, hundreds of thousands of veterans are still waiting more than a month for health care appointments, and the number of vets waiting more than three months has doubled.

The VA has also been criticized for continuing to hand out bonuses and other perks to its top officials, despite the lack of substantial progress in getting back on its mission of helping veterans. Most recently, the VA was known to spend more than $250,000 to help a top official move, and has refused to answer numerous questions about how those payments were justified.

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