WASHINGTON –U.S. Senators and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., ranking member and chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, respectively, today announced the Veterans First Act to begin to change the culture at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The bill will give the VA the tools to fire bad actors, will prohibit bonuses for employees accused of wrongdoing, and will institute protections for whistleblowers. If you are interested in footage from today’s press conference, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blumenthal and Isakson said the bill is designed to demand a higher level of accountability from the 335,000-employee department in the wake of numerous scandals over the past few years at VA facilities across the country involving serious mismanagement, misconduct and mistreatment of veterans.
The Veterans First Act also includes numerous provisions to improve services for our nation's veterans, including expanding a VA program that allows seriously-injured veterans to receive care in their own homes, enhancing programs for veterans' mental health care, and beginning to address the VA's massive backlog of veteran disability claims appeals.
“This bill assures that the nation keeps faith with veterans of all eras—fulfilling longstanding promises to veterans of new service and old,” said Blumenthal. “Accountability is vital to deter and discipline failure to deliver services that veterans need and deserve. As important as accountability are the sweeping and significant new services and programs provided to veterans of the post-9/11 era and earlier. This bill has specific significant steps to improve veterans’ health care, expand support for caregivers, stop the over-prescription of opioids, enhance education benefits for veterans and their families, and other important reforms and services. This measure is a true bipartisan and bicameral effort involving ideas from literally every member of our committee on both sides of the aisle. I hope for broad support.”
“When people look back at what Congress accomplished this year, the Veterans First Act will be at the top of the list,” said Isakson. “The numerous scandals at the VA and the outrageous examples of employee mismanagement and misconduct have got to stop. Our veterans deserve much better than this. Our bill will begin to change the culture of corruption at the VA by giving the VA the tools it needs to hold bad actors accountable. There are numerous other provisions in our bill that will improve services for our veterans. I urge my colleagues to put veterans first and send this bill to the president as soon as possible.”
The Veterans First Act makes it easier for leadership at the VA to remove employees at all levels. It holds accountable all VA leaders, including political appointees, for managing the Department. It removes the Merit Systems Protection Board, which recently reversed the demotions of three senior executives at the VA, from the appeal process for executives at the department. The bill also prohibits bonuses for employees who have been found guilty of wrongdoing and includes numerous protections for whistleblowers.
Other notable provisions of the bill include the improvement and expansion of the VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers to provide all generations of veterans with the opportunity to receive care in their own homes, as well as the strengthening of the care veterans receive in their communities, through allowing the VA to enter into provider agreements with community doctors and ensuring those provider get paid promptly by making the VA the primary payer for services rendered under the Veterans Choice Program.
Building upon the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs work throughout this legislative session, the Veterans First Act specifically:
- Changes the culture at the VA by improving accountability to make it easier for the VA Secretary to remove bad actors at all levels of the department.
- Expands the VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers to all generations of veterans.
- Strengthens the Veterans Choice program by establishing prompt payment standards and streamlining the requirements for community medical providers to enter into agreements with the VA.
- Enhances education benefits for veterans, surviving spouses and children, and allows thousands of mobilized Reservists to earn GI Bill eligibility.
- Addresses the crisis of opioid over-prescription among veterans.
- Enhances research on the potential health effects from toxic exposure to veterans and their descendants.
- Strengthens programs to combat veteran homelessness.
- Improves the disability claims and appeals process by requiring the VA to launch a pilot program that will cut down the massive backlog of appeals awaiting action.
The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 114th Congress.
Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate VA Committee since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the military as well as more than 750,000 veterans.