Georgia Voices: Despite $16B bill for VA, reforms still needed
by The Augusta Chronicle
August 26, 2014 09:27 PM | 1273 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The $16-plus-billion emergency fix for the scandal-plagued Department of Veterans Affairs is designed to do a lot of things.

It is intended to help hire more doctors and nurses, build more VA facilities and make it easier for veterans to get health care from non-VA providers.

What it won’t do is start to reform a culture that rewards liars, punishes whistleblowers and shields itself from scrutiny with a bureaucratic brick wall.

That would require the ability to quickly and easily fire bad employees, which this recently approved bill doesn’t do.

“Throwing money at the VA won’t solve their problem,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) “A fundamental change in culture and real leadership from the president on down is the only way to provide the quality, timely care our veterans deserve.”

The media have ballyhooed provisions enabling the VA secretary to immediately terminate senior executives — an authority new Secretary Bob McDonald should have anyway. But the measure signed recently by President Obama does nothing to streamline the termination process for the VA’s rank-and-file civil service employees.

As many as 1,000 veterans may have died while languishing on secret waiting lists at VA facilities nationwide, including in Augusta. Considering the depth and breadth of the scandal, one would assume at least some mid- to low-level employees should also be held to account.

After all, the falsified and omitted records and cover-ups that led to the preventable veteran deaths — and $100 million in pay bonuses for VA administrators over a three-year period — clearly bear the fingerprints of federal employees at multiple pay grades.

Reforming the VA requires overhauling its employee culture, from the top down and the bottom up.

If lawmakers are serious about reform, they should change the way government employees are evaluated, promoted and disciplined. And they should start at the VA, where decisions by government workers literally can be a matter of life and death.

Otherwise, the $16 billion VA bill is nothing but a reward for failure, and it’s only a matter of time before the next scandal arises.

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