There's a good chance that the scandal-plagued Veterans Administration will finally be able to fire bad workers more easily.
And a big measure of credit goes to Florida's junior Republican Senator, Marco Rubio, who saw his legislation on that issue defeated last month only to see it resurrected today in a bipartisan VA agreement announced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, and John McCain, R-Ariz.
The legislation pushed by Rubio, which the House already passed by a big bipartisan margin before Memorial, already had 11 Democratic co-sponsors in the Senate, but Sanders, the chairman of the Senate's committee overseeing the VA, originally wanted to water it down.
Rubio, backed by veterans' groups, wouldn't back down. And last week, Sanders called Rubio to get him on board. Rubio appears to happy to join.
“For months, I’ve worked with Representative Jeff Miller and veterans organizations to pass legislation empowering the Veterans Affairs Secretary to fire incompetent and negligent managers," Rubio said in a written statement. "In recent days, I’ve worked with Senators Burr, McCain and Sanders to ensure that this important proposal was included in their veterans bill that the Senate will consider in coming weeks. I am pleased that real accountability measures are included in the legislation. Considering the deep debt of gratitude our nation owes our veterans, I’m optimistic that the Senate will soon join the U.S. House of Representatives and pass these important reforms. As we look forward to voting on this bill, I will be reviewing it closely to ensure it delivers on America’s promises to our veterans.”
For decades, the VA has been a mess in some areas. And Congress has done relatively little about it. The legislation could pass the Senate this month.
That could change with the eruption of the latest scandal involving long wait times for veterans, a few of whom appear to have died before seeing a VA physician.
Rubio’s addition to the bipartisan plan would give the VA secretary greater power to fire poorly performing workers. Fired employees would have a week to appeal their dismissal. A VA board that would hear the cases would have three weeks to render a final judgment in each case.
Other aspects of the legislation seek to:
* Give veterans a voucher-like “choice card” so that they could see non-VA providers in some circumstances
* Give veterans that ability to see non-VA providers if they can’t see an agency physician in a timely manner or if they live more then 40 miles from a VA facility.
* Give veterans in-state tuition rates for all veterans at public colleges and universities.
* Improve medical care and counseling for military sexual-assault victims.
* Expand some VA benefits to surviving spouses of former veterans
* Construct 27 new VA facilities in 18 states and hire more doctors and nurses with a $500 million fund that Congress has already authorized.