The two U.S. senators from Oklahoma on Friday introduced legislation to allow the Veterans Affairs Secretary to delegate to VA health care network directors the power to demote and fire employees on the basis of performance or conduct.
The proposed law builds on the authority Congress granted to the VA secretary in 2014 to order demotions and firings of personnel for poor performance or behavior.
"Our legislation grants VA leadership at the regional level the authority to fire any staff that are failing to provide adequate care to veterans," Sen. James Inhofe said in a statement. His co-sponsor is fellow Republican Sen. James Lankford.
Neither lawmaker serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee -- the panel that typically would generate this kind of legislation -- but the two were spurred by a VA investigation that resulted in a shutdown of surgeries at the Muskogee VA Medical Center in Oklahoma due to quality-of-care issues.
Amanda Maddox, a spokeswoman for Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia and chairman of the Senate panel, said the committee knew this legislation was coming and will be working with Inhofe and Lankford to include the provisions into a VA accountability package now being put together.
The VA launched its probe of the Oklahoma facility after USA Today reported on veterans whose illnesses were made worse by lack of follow-up care and misdiagnosis.
Two Veterans Integrated System Network teams for the Oklahoma region discovered problems with quality of care and management at the facility. Not only were the surgeries shut down but the hospital's chief of staff was temporarily reassigned pending a department-level review of the VISN review.
Inhofe said on Friday that VA Secretary Bob McDonald is expected to brief him on his findings in the next few weeks.
Lankford said allowing McDonald to extend his authority to demote and fire to regional directors will improve accountability across the VA.
"Men and women who served our nation in uniform deserve quality care. Unfortunately, the VA isn't always meeting this expectation," said Lankford. "To ensure our veterans receive quality care, we must give our senior officials at the regional level the tools to hold people accountable."
The lawmakers' bill also would authorize the directors of the various integrated service networks across the VA system to bring in an outside company specializing in civilian accreditation or health care evaluation to assess and report on deficiencies with any medical center within their network.