Rubio: “Reforming the VA is long overdue. The truth is that it shouldn't have taken all these problems reaching the scandalous levels for Washington to finally wake up and act. But here we are now with an opportunity to act. So let’s do it. Our veterans have waited long enough.”
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today delivered remarks at the opening meeting of the House-Senate conference committee that was created to reconcile different versions of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reform legislation recently passed by both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.
Although he is not a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Rubio was asked to be part of the conference committee due to his leadership in sponsoring the VA Management Accountability Act of 2014, which passed the House in May and was included in the Senate-passed VA reform legislation earlier this month. This measure would give the VA secretary the authority to fire or demote VA Senior Executive Service (SES) or equivalent employees based on performance.
Rubio’s remarks are available below.U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
VA Reform Legislation Conference Committee
June 24, 2014
Thank you, Chairman Sanders and Chairman Miller for the work you’ve done on this legislation.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this conference committee.
I’m pleased that both the House and the Senate have been able to act on legislation to reform the VA, and bring us to this point of ironing out the differences between the two proposals. Hopefully, the President will have a final VA reform bill that he can sign into law.
Let me explain my interest in this conference committee is twofold.
First, I represent the state of Florida, which is home to almost two million veterans. We have numerous VA medical centers and facilities all over the state. Recently, we’ve seen some major problems uncovered at some of these VA facilities, with six of them now among the 112 that are being investigated nationwide for potentially manipulating patient schedules in order to conceal long waiting periods for veterans seeking care.
Seeing these VA scandals – in Florida and around the country – has disgusted me, as I know it has disgusted many of you. We owe our veterans better than this – way better.
Our veterans deserve state of the art care in a timely and dignified manner. This hasn’t been happening, but this conference committee will now offer what I hope will be the final step in a process to pass a law that starts to make some meaningful reforms to correct this sad state of affairs in our nation’s VA system.
My second major interest in this committee is that both the House and Senate have passed bills that include, to varying different degrees, a measure that Chairman Miller and I introduced earlier this year. It’s called the VA Management Accountability Act of 2014.
And I know that the House has passed that, and it’s also included in this proposal. And this bill that we’ve proposed is pretty simple. It says that the VA secretary should have the authority to fire or demote VA Senior Executive Service or equivalent employees based on their performance.
If VA officials are not doing their jobs – and if they are deliberately trying to conceal how poorly they are doing their jobs – they should be fired.
As I’ve talked to people about this bill in recent months, most have been surprised that you even need a new law to make this possible. Because it’s common sense in practically every other workplace in America.
It sends a terrible message – to our veterans, to American taxpayers and to the vast majority of VA employees who are doing a good job – to let incompetent officials get away with poor performance.
And worst of all, poor performance at the VA doesn’t just hurt employee morale; it actually endangers the lives of veterans.
So I’m hoping that, with all the issues we’ll be dealing with in this conference committee negotiation, that this particular measure won’t become a sticking point. I’m hoping that the final bill ultimately ensures that, going forward, incompetence at the VA will be dealt with fairly – but swiftly.
In closing, let me just say that America’s veterans deserve our admiration and appreciation for all they've done to defend our country and our interests abroad. The most tangible that way we can do this is by ensuring their medical needs are met with timely, high-quality and dignified health care.
Reforming the VA is long overdue. The truth is that it shouldn't have taken all these problems reaching the scandalous levels for Washington to finally wake up and act.
But here we are now with an opportunity to act. So let’s do it. Our veterans have waited long enough.