Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) said Friday that he is working with the White House on a new Veterans Affairs accountability bill and that he plans to introduce it after Congress returns from its Memorial Day recess on June 2.
The proposal, which comes amid widespread allegations of VA hospitals covering up treatment delays, would serve as the companion bill to a House measure that passed this week with strong bipartisan support.
Both bills would give the VA secretary greater authority to fire senior executives, but Sanders said his legislation would include additional language ensuring due process protections for officials who face removal or demotions.
Sanders, who heads the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said his office is working with the White House on the bill. The administration signaled this week that President Obama supports the general goals behind the House bill but wants lawmakers to tweak some of the provisions.
Critics have said the House measure would remove current due process protections of the civil service designed to guard against politicization of the federal workforce. Critics also say the bill would deter top-caliber professionals from seeking VA jobs.
The Senior Executives Association on Friday said it is disappointed that Sanders’s proposal would include an “ill-advised and unnecessary” accountability measure. The group also expressed skepticism about the lawmaker’s promise to ensure due-process protections.
“While a due-process provision would be fair, the association hasn’t seen it, and, as they say, the devil is in the details,” SEA president Carol Bonosaro said.
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), who sponsored the House bill, said Friday he is pleased that Sanders “shares the goal of providing the VA secretary with the tools to ensure failing VA executives are punished — rather than rewarded — for mismanagement and negligence that harms veterans.”
Sanders also said Friday that he would re-introduce a comprehensive VA bill he sponsored that failed in February.
That measure, costing an estimated $21 billion over 10 years, would have repealed a controversial military-pension cut for new troops and expanded veterans benefits, including dental and medical care, educational assistance and the caretaker stipends that currently apply only to post-Sept. 11 veterans.
The original measure failed to win enough Republican votes to waive a limit on VA spending in the budget approved in December. Some GOP lawmakers expressed concerns about the bill’s costs and the idea of adding more veterans to an already overwhelmed VA system.