Washington, D.C. – During today’s Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on improving healthcare for veterans, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin told U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) the legislation he introduced today, the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, would give the VA secretary the tools needed to hold employees accountable for incompetence or malfeasance.
Video of today’s key exchange can be watched here. A transcript is below.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on veterans affairs
May 11, 2017
RUBIO: In your view, what is the appropriate approach? Is it to leave as is or to lower the standard on misconduct, but raise it on performance? And second, if in fact your belief is that they should both be the substantial evidence model, if you have any examples as to how the current standard, for example, on misconduct, has been an impediment to accountability and being able to function in your new role.
SHULKIN: Senator Rubio, first of all, thank you for recognizing that the vast amount of our employees are doing terrific and heroic work and are serving this country’s veterans and we should be proud of them, of the work that they’re doing. We’re talking here about a very, very small number of employees who have deviated and drifted away from the ethical and the responsibilities that they took on to serve our country’s veterans and no longer should have the privilege of serving in our system.
In those cases, I wish it wasn’t true. I wish today I could tell you I have the tools to do the right thing, to be able to remove those employees. I do not. So unfortunately, I need a new set of tools if I’m going to be held accountable for turning this system around and doing what we all want to do to serve veterans. So I thank you for introducing this bill, I think it’s necessary.
In response to your questions which are highly legal and technical. I only went to medical school, not to law school. I can tell you that I need substantial evidence in both of those cases, in performance and misconduct. That if we move towards a different standard than substantial, it will be harder for me to do the right thing and to serve the system the way that it needs to be led.
This [legislation] allows due process. I believe it’s very important that our employees have due process. The right to pre-decisional appeals, the right to be represented by the union or their attorneys, but in the cases that frankly we need to make the changes in management or other changes, today I just don’t have that ability to do it.