The Veterans Affairs Department once again needs congressional authority to transfer funds from one account to another to keep the Veterans Choice Program running for the rest of fiscal 2017. VA Secretary David Shulkin says the issue emphasizes the need to redesign the program, yet Congress has its concerns about the viability of Choice in the near and long term future.
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin offered the first glimpse of his plan to redesign the current Veterans Choice Program. He’s calling it the Veterans’ Coordinated Access Rewarding Experience (CARE) Program, and under the new initiative, veterans would no longer access community providers based on a set of arbitrary, administrative rules.
Both the Veterans Affairs and Justice departments believe they can easily resolve some concerns with the constitutionality of the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection. DoJ is concerned, however, that VA will run into the same issues that ultimately rendered a controversial provision on firing senior executives unconstitutional.
The Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which senators introduced last week, may have more momentum than previous bills. It now has 12 co-sponsors, including four Democrats and VA Secretary David Shulkin himself. Yet some federal employee groups and experts question whether the new bill has the teeth to truly tackle long entrenched cultural problems at the department.
Members of the Senate have reached a long awaited agreement on new accountability procedures for senior executives and employees within the Veterans Affairs Department. A bipartisan group of senators introduced the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act Thursday morning. It would change current disciplinary appeals rights for both SES and rank-and-file employees.
The Government Accountability Office is questioning whether the right people, skills and leadership were devoted to the Veterans Affairs Department’s past efforts to remove VA healthcare from the High-Risk List. But current VA leadership insisted it’s paying attention and asked for patience as it continues to transform the department.
Since Michael Missal took over as inspector general at the Veterans Affairs Department about a year ago, his office has turned up some improvements, some deteriorations and the odd surprise.
An extension and then redesign of the Veterans Choice Program, along with new employee accountability legislation, are top priorities for new Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. He said he’s working with Congress on new legislation to support those initiatives.
David Shulkin, President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Veterans Affairs Department, earned high praise from the Senate committee during his nomination hearing. Changing the department’s current Veterans Choice Program and crafting new accountability and disciplinary procedures for VA employees were common topics.
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee took on the recommendations from the VA Commission on Care’s recent report on veterans health care.
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said the Veterans First Act, which the department itself is actively supporting, has hit a few roadblocks. He hasn’t yet been able to bring the omnibus to a vote in the full Senate but said he is optimistic Congress will pass new veterans legislation this year.
A recent decision from the Justice Department is prompting the VA to stop using the authority it has under current legislation to fire senior executives more quickly. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee said the news comes after an inquiry over whether the VA planned to make any policy changes after the DOJ decision, which ultimately ruled that a key provision in the VA Choice Act is unconstitutional.
The Senate is still debating whether it should overhaul current programs at the Veterans Affairs Department that give veterans access to private health care or revise certain pieces of it. At the same time, the VA said it’s close on finalizing a new appeals process, but the committee is concerned the VA’s plan does little to address the current backlog of 450,000 unresolved claims.
VA Secretary Bob McDonald said his department is different enough from other federal agencies that a separate personnel system is appropriate for VA senior executives. McDonald also said the department is working on new performance standards to measure veterans’ satisfaction with VA medical facilities and the time it takes to receive an appointment.
At nearly 400 pages, the Veterans First Act, which the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee introduced last week, covers everything from veterans homelessness to more flexible work hours for VA doctors and nurses. But VA’s senior executives are still the main target of the legislation.