This bill would strengthen protections for whistleblowers and increase accountability for employees who face discipline for misconduct or poor performance at the Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA). It would also reform the disability benefits appeals process.
The VA would be authorized to remove or demote one of its employees based on performance or misconduct, potentially removing the employee from civil service or demoting them through a reduction in status or pay. A demoted employee couldn’t be placed on administrative leave or any type of paid leave while they’re appealing the decision, and can only receive pay if they show up to their job.
The appeals process for disciplined employees would be expedited so that they could appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) within seven days of their firing or demotion. A final ruling would come within 60 days of the disciplinary action becoming final, and that final decision could be appealed through the U.S. Court of Appeals.
The VA wouldn’t be able to fire or demote an employee who is a whistleblower without the approval of the Office of Special Counsel if the employee has filed a complaint with the Office, or until a final decision in a related whistleblower complaint is made. Supervisors who retaliate against whistleblowers could be suspended or fired.
VA employees who are convicted of felonies would potentially be punished by:
A reduction in the federal annuity that the employee was due to receive;
Forfeiture of a bonus, award, or relocation expenses paid to the employee;
All Senior Executive Service employees at the VA would be prohibited from being paid an award or bonus during any of the fiscal years between 2017 and 2021.
Veterans who file disability claims with the VA would be able to appeal to a higher level of authority at the VA and receive a decision in writing. This review would process would involve examining the claim as if it were being seen for the first time. Decisions would include a breakdown of what was decided, what evidence was used in making that decision, whether it’s approved or denied, and identify what criteria must be met to increase the veterans compensation.