(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member, along with U.S Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Bob Casey (D-Penn.), offered an amendment to the fiscal year 2016 military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) spending bill, which was included in final passage (93-0). The amendment prohibits the use of funds for the Home Marketing Incentive Program (HMIP) or the Appraisal Value Offer (AVO) program for the relocation of senior VA executives.
“This bipartisan step prevents VA abuses that game the system and sabotage accountability-- misusing taxpayer money and taking away resources needed to continue supporting our veterans,” said Ranking Member Blumenthal. “These reforms follow recent revelations that show the clear need to require stronger accountability, but this step cannot be the end of such efforts. We must continue to make sure that supporting the men and women who have dedicated their lives to our nation remains the top priority.”
“Unfortunately, systemic dysfunction and lack of leadership at the VA continues,” Sen. Moran said. “We do not need more damage control – we need to hold VA personnel accountable for their actions. This amendment will ensure senior executives at the VA are not taking advantage of benefits intended to help recruit and retain much-needed medical providers and other key personnel serving at VA facilities across the country. We need leaders in the VA who are willing to take a stand, identify the problems, and get on the right path to resolve these problems so that veterans have a Department of Veterans Affairs worthy of their service.”
“According to the VA’s own Inspector General report, a perverse culture of gaming the system was rampant at the Veterans Administration for many years,” Sen. Toomey said. “While the VA was embroiled in major scandals that resulted in veterans stuck in long lines for care, some senior VA executives used their position of authority for their own personal financial benefit. The Moran-Toomey-Blumenthal-Casey amendment is a bipartisan effort to help stop some of the abuses that these senior federal workers used to line their own pockets. Pennsylvanians care deeply for our veterans and we are all outraged that taxpayer dollars to the VA have been inexcusably pocketed by bureaucrats.”
A September 2015 VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) Report found that senior VA executives were using the relocation program to provide more than $400,000 in questionable moving expenses. The Acting Inspector General reported that employees “inappropriately used their positions of authority for personal and financial benefit” when they forced transfers of lower-ranking officials and then filled the vacancies themselves.
Following the IG report, the VA suspended the AVO program, the Veterans Benefit Administration (VBA) Under Secretary Allison Hickey resigned, and the House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller held a hearing on Nov. 2, 2015, where Principal VBA Deputy Under Secretary Danny Pummill admitted that the VA has an “accountability problem” and if the VA does not hold people accountable, “we can’t make a culture change.” The witnesses who were senior executives in question were subpoenaed for the hearing, but refused to answer questions under their Fifth Amendment rights.
Although the VA suspended the AVO program, there is nothing preventing the VA from reinstating it. The amendment focuses on senior executive service positions to avoid a direct impact on the recruitment and retention of medical professionals who often transfer and relocate within the VA system.