Sen. Donnelly tours Roudebush VA as Congress prepares to crack down on bad employees

INDIANAPOLIS – Inside Indiana’s largest Veterans Affairs facility, Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) met with veterans and staff Monday, vowing new measures in Washington to help ensure accountability of the nation’s VA healthcare system.

The tour, amidst continued bureaucracy and scandals nationwide, underscores an urgent need to confront pressing issues like veteran suicide and accountability.

“We understand that as humans running a healthcare system, we are fallible,” Dr. J. Brian Hancock said, director of the Roudebush VA Healthcare System in Indianapolis. “But our purpose is to provide the highest quality of care and limit, minimize, mitigate anything that might not contribute to that mission.”

Monday’s event comes as Congress is about to send President Donald Trump a new reform and accountability bill, making it easier for the VA to fire or discipline employees engaged in misconduct or poor performance.

"99.9 percent of them have an extraordinary love for the vets," Donnelly said.

The Senate passed the measure last week on a voice vote, and the House is expected to vote in the coming days.

The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, opposes the bill, as last week the president urged quick passage in the House.

“As with any group of human beings, there are always those who maybe are not the best match for our facility,” Hancock said. “And we do need a little better accountability. We do need a little better process for helping them to find the right position for them.”

In a recent ‘State of the VA’ report, delivered by VA Secretary David Shulkin, the administration said the VA has about 1,500 disciplinary actions against employees currently on hold due to a required one-month waiting period before the VA can take action for misconduct or poor performance.

“Our accountability processes are clearly broken,” Shulkin said.

The VA accountability bill would also protect whistle-blowers, Donnelly underscored.

“If any employee or team member of the VA sees something sideways, they know they’re protected if they bring it up and if they try to get it fixed,” he said. “They’re not going to get in trouble. They’re not going to lose their job.”