Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson led an effort to pass a bill making it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire bad employees and protect whistleblowers who report abuse and waste.
Rubio and Nelson were among the sponsors of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which passed the Senate by a voice vote on Tuesday. The bill now heads to the House for approval.
The legislation, according to Rubio and Nelson's offices, would authorize VA secretary David Shulkin to fire or demote senior and non-senior employees and lowers the burden of proof needed to dismiss an employee. The bill also protects whistleblowers by not allowing Shulkin to fire employees who have filed a formal complaint regarding conduct at the VA.
In 2014, the VA was rocked with scandal after a some veterans died while waiting months for appointments at the Phoenix VA hospital and employees created secret lists to cover up the delays.
"You can imagine I’m incredibly pleased that my Senate colleagues today passed the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act," Rubio said. "It’s bipartisan and what it basically does is it’s now going to give the VA secretary the power to fire and dismiss bad employees and also to protect whistleblowers who come forward."
Nelson also praised the act's passage.
“The brave men and women who have served our country deserve the very best care our nation can give them,” Nelson said on the Senate floor prior to the vote. “This bipartisan bill will help improve the quality of care our veterans receive by reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
The House passed a similar bill earlier this year by a mostly party-line vote after the largest union of federal employees opposed the measure. But the Senate version gives rank-and-file employees a longer appeals process and holds VA executives to a tougher standard.
President Donald Trump tweeted his support for the bill on Tuesday.
"Senate passed the VA Accountability Act," Trump tweeted. "The House should get this bill to my desk ASAP! We can’t tolerate substandard care for our vets."