- - Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Senate leader of the veterans’ affairs committee said a sweeping reform bill should be brought up for a vote by Memorial Day.

“Every time we turn around, there’s been no accountability in the VA,” Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican, said on the Senate floor April 28.

Mr. Isakson and ranking committee member Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, introduced the Veterans First Act (S. 2921) on May 11, with 30 original co-sponsors. It passed out of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee on May 16, but no floor action had been taken as of May 25.

The omnibus reform is intended to “change the culture of corruption” at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Mr. Isakson said in April, by improving accountability, health care services, education and employment opportunities and burial benefits, among other things.

Mr. Isakson said he wanted to see the Veterans First Act brought to the Senate floor for a vote before Memorial Day. The House has already passed its VA reform bill, and the chambers need to conference on them, Mr. Isakson said.

In July, the House passed the VA Accountability Act of 2015 (H.R. 1994) by a 256-170 vote, largely along party lines.

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, Florida Republican, has said the House bill properly permits sanctions, including firings, of “corrupt and incompetent bureaucrats.”

Mr. Miller called the new Senate bill a “positive development,” while Mr. Isakson has told reporters he is confident the two chambers can craft a joint bill that will resolve the accountability problems in the VA.

The VA, which has some 312,000 employees, has been embroiled in numerous scandals, including excessive wait-listing and subpar treatments for sick and injured veterans, and wasteful spending on facilities and personnel.

Advocacy groups representing federal workers are monitoring the bills to ensure that civil servants’ due process rights are not eroded.

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