House clears major Veterans Affairs reform bill, sends to White House

The House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday aimed at overhauling the Department of Veterans Affairs and protecting whistleblowers

The House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday aimed at overhauling the Department of Veterans Affairs and protecting whistleblowers

Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., the committee's ranking member past year, said that he hopes the accountability bill's passage "will provide veterans greater confidence that the VA is prepared to meet their needs" and that Congress "shift our focus from who is fired from the VA to who is hired at the VA".

The bill is created to protect whistleblowers and give VA Secretary David Shulkin the tools to fire bad or under-performing employees. If S. 1094 were presented to the President, his advisors would recommend that he sign the bill into law.

"This has been a long time in coming", Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said Tuesday, calling this legislation one of, "if not the biggest step we have taken to turn this page" following scandals within the Veterans Administration.

"Fixing the culture at the VA requires us to acknowledge the great work of the many without leaving them tainted with the incompetence and scandal of the few", he said.

Congress set its sights on VA reform in 2014, after a whistleblower claimed that roughly 40 veterans died waiting up to 21 months for care at a VA hospital in Phoenix. This legislation will help improve services and care at the Department of Veterans Affairs by empowering the Trump administration to get the bad apples out so the good employees can do their jobs. "And most fundamentally, it will assure veterans that when we say that we are a grateful nation, we mean it", Ryan said Tuesday morning ahead of the vote.

The bill was criticized by American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 700,000 federal workers.

Specifically, H.R. 1259 increases accountability at the VA by making it easier for the VA Secretary to punish or fire bad employees. But the Senate-passed measure was viewed as more in balance with workers' rights than a version passed by the House in March, mostly along party lines.

The Senate bill also would turn a campaign promise of Trump's into law. It establishes an "Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection" within the department and forbids the VA Secretary from retaliating against whistleblowers who have filed a complaint with the VA general counsel's office. The Senate approved the measure last week.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on the House floor said about the string of problems at the agency, "this has happened for years".

"Veterans across the country can look forward to a new culture of accountability and integrity at the VA", said Dan Caldwell, policy director of the conservative Concerned Veterans for America, which lobbied for years to pass legislation.

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