News Release — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
May 23, 2014
BURLINGTON – U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders said today that he will introduce legislation to increase accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs and reintroduce comprehensive legislation – which Senate Republicans blocked last winter – to improve veterans’ health care, education, job-training and other benefits.
Sanders (I-Vt.) is working with the White House on a VA accountability bill that will be filed as soon as Congress returns from its Memorial Day recess. The chairman also announced that a hearing will be held on June 5 to address that bill and other legislation.
“In recent years, as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 1.5 million more veterans have entered the VA health care system,” Sanders said. “Congress must do everything possible to make certain that the VA has the financial resources and administrative accountability to provide the high-quality health care and timely access to care that our veterans earned and deserve.”
The broader measure that Sanders intends to revive also would restore a 1 percent cut in annual cost-of-living adjustments for military pensions. The comprehensive bill is backed by the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and many other organizations. The measure was sidetracked last Feb. 27 when only two Republican senators voted with 54 Democrats and independents to advance the measure.
Only yesterday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) complained about the $21 billion, 10-year cost of the comprehensive bill. “If you think it’s too expensive to take care of our veterans then don’t send them to war,” Sanders said during the exchange with Rubio.
The new accountability measure that Sanders will introduce would grant VA secretaries the power to remove senior executives because of poor job performance. Under current law, officials in what the federal government calls the Senior Executive Service may be dismissed or demoted, with rare exception, only for misconduct.
Sanders’ legislation also would maintain the VA’s ability to be competitive in recruiting and retaining top-notch leaders and managers by ensuring expedited due-process protections for senior executives facing removal or demotion for poor performance.
Unlike a bill that the House passed on Thursday, the Sanders measure would avoid politicization of the VA by preventing any new administration from discharging hundreds of high-level civil servants without due process for political reasons.