VA 'forced' to continue paying employee caught watching porn

Department of Veterans Affairs says current law caused delay in removal

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Department of Veterans Affairs says current law forced the agency to continue paying a VA employee in Texas who was caught watching pornography while with a patient, and is supporting Congress' efforts to change legislation to speed up the firing process.

VA says it immediately removed the unnamed employee of the Michael DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston from patient care and placed the worker on administrative duties. 

While the employee was recommended to be removed from federal service, due to current law, VA says the deciding official cannot affect a final determination for 30 days from the date the proposal for removal was made. 

“This is an example of why we need accountability legislation as soon as possible,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs David J. Shulkin. “It’s unacceptable that VA has to wait 30 days to act on a proposed removal.”

Under current law, the Department of Veterans Affairs must continue to pay employees who are in the process of being removed. During this advance notice period, at least 30 days from the date that the employee’s removal has been proposed -- assuming there is no evidence that the employee has committed a crime -- an employee must be paid.

If the employee has been assessed as a potential danger to veterans, the employee should be placed on administrative leave with pay. If the employee does not pose an immediate threat to veterans, they are typically placed on administrative duties, which limits their contact with veterans and their families while ensuring that they aren’t sitting at home collecting a paycheck without providing any services to the government.

The 2017 VA Accountability First Act, introduced by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), would drastically shorten the overall termination and appeals process for VA employees who are found to have engaged in misconduct. The bill also empowers the VA Secretary to recoup bonuses awarded in error or given to employees who were later found to have engaged in misconduct. Additionally, the bill gives the VA Secretary the ability to reduce the pensions of VA employees who are convicted of felonies that influenced their job performance.

The House version of the bill, introduced by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), passed with bipartisan support on March 16.

VA says it is grateful that Congress has made employee accountability a priority, and has been working with Congress to ensure legislation would provide VA the ability to expedite removals while still preserving an employee’s right to due process.

Without these legislative changes, VA says it will continue to be forced to delay immediate actions to remove employees from federal service.

“Current legislation in Congress reduces the amount of time we have to wait before taking action,” continued Shulkin. “I look forward to working with both the Senate and the House to ensure final legislation gives us the flexibility we need.”

Concerned Veterans for America is applauding Shulkin for calling for accountability and supporting the VA Accountability First Act -- something CVA emphasizes never happened under former VA Secretary Robert McDonald.

“It is incredibly refreshing to see Dr. Shulkin emphatically calling for strong accountability measures at the VA. Under the previous administration, the Secretaries spent most of their time denying that problems within the department existed. By acknowledging the need for systemic reform, Secretary Shulkin has taken a bold and courageous step in helping veterans push Congress to pass meaningful accountability legislation," said Concerned Veterans for America Policy Director Dan Caldwell.

“An employee caught watching pornography with a VA patient should be escorted out of the building immediately, never to return. The VA is forced to retain employees like this due to incredibly cumbersome and bureaucratic regulations. To change this, the Senate must move quickly on the VA Accountability First Act of 2017, a bill supported by the President, VA Secretary, major veteran organizations, and veterans around the country who need and deserve better care than what they’re getting from the VA,” Caldwell added.

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