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Chairman Bost, Rep. Obernolte Demand Answers From VA on Employee Misconduct Case

Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mike Bost (R-Ill.), and Rep. Jay Obernolte (R-Calif.), released the following statements in regard to a recent letter the Members sent to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Denis McDonough requesting answers on a situation at the Loma Linda VA Medical Center (VAMC) where a supervisory employee continues to be employed by the medical center despite creating a hostile work environment, ultimately reducing accountability, impacting employee morale, and hindering the good delivery of services to veterans.

This letter comes on the heels of the Department stating it will no longer use the tools provided by the bipartisan VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which was signed into law in 2017. The Loma Linda VAMC supervisor in question for this specific case qualifies to be disciplined under the Accountability Act, but now cannot be because the Biden administration paused the use of the law.

“The purpose of the bipartisan Accountability Act is to give the VA Secretary the tools to ensure that the VA workforce is the best, and that employee misconduct and poor performance are a thing of the past,” said Chairman Bost. “Yet, the Committee continues to hear reports that this is not the case, most recently at the Loma Linda VA Medical Center where a toxic supervisor continues to be employed following multiple investigations over three years into their misconduct and recommendations that they be removed. As Chairman, that is unacceptable to me. Which is why I’m proud to lead this letter demanding answers from the Biden administration with my friend from California, Rep. Obernolte. Our veterans, the dedicated VA workforce, and taxpayers deserve to know why bad employees are still employed by VA and accountability is being swept under the rug.”

“America’s veterans have dedicated their lives to our country and protecting the freedoms we hold dear. In return, our nation has promised to deliver the best possible care to them when they leave our armed forces,” said Rep. Obernolte. “A Department of Veterans Affairs that is unable to maintain a productive work environment for its employees is a VA that is unable to deliver on that promise. The VA's failure to terminate an employee with a long and troubled record of creating a hostile work environment for subordinates has led to the loss of numerous good employees. Furthermore, this culture is hindering the department’s ability to provide the quality services America’s veterans deserve at VA Loma Linda. It is critical that the bureaucratic red tape that kept this supervisor in place is removed and that the Department of Veterans Affairs take immediate action to revise their procedures to ensure the immediate removal of problematic employees in the future.”

Chairman Bost continues to press Secretary McDonough on accountability at the Department following numerous testimonials by whistleblowers around the country which have made the Committee aware that the intent of the bipartisan VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 is not being carried out under the Biden administration. The Committee has held two hearings already on this issue, and pushed the Secretary on a recent Merit System Protection Board (MSPB) decision impacting VA’s ability to remove hybrid employees.

Full text of the letter the Members sent can be found here and below:

Dear Secretary McDonough:

Thank you for your recent response to the January 25, 2023, letter requesting all Administrative Investigations Board (AIB) reports regarding a supervisory employee in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Loma Linda Healthcare System. Your response provided an AIB report, dated February 8, 2021, which found the supervisory employee was creating a hostile work environment at VA. The AIB included roughly 4,000 pages of exhibits and investigators conducted 57 hours of transcribed interviews with 36 witnesses over the course of the AIB investigation.

Further, VA indicated in its response that the AIB was one of three investigations Loma Linda conducted, from July 2020 to May 2022, which substantiated that the supervisory employee was creating a hostile work environment. Both the AIB and one of the other investigations recommended the supervisory employee be removed from employment at VA. Unfortunately, despite the investigations’ consistent evidence and recommendations, and the massive amount of time, money, and energy spent investigating the supervisory employee over nearly three years, the supervisor remains employed at the VA Loma Linda Healthcare System.

We trust you share our frustration with this untenable situation. Despite medical center leadership doing everything possible within its legal constraints, the supervisory employee is still employed and is repeatedly creating an environment that you claim VA does not tolerate. Consequently, employees are forced to either work in a hostile environment or leave VA.

For these employees, many of whom are veterans, it is passion and purpose that drives them. They want nothing more than to serve their fellow veterans. They are employees we are lucky to have in the VA system and they keep us all focused on delivering high quality, timely health care and benefits to veterans. That is why we are deeply concerned that employees like the supervisory employee are driving away VA’s most valued staff.

Congress has provided VA the authority to expeditiously discipline employees for misconduct and poor performance for precisely this reason. Unfortunately, VA has elected to pause the use of that authority beginning April 3, 2023. The painful three-year history of this case vividly demonstrates why this authority is necessary. Failing to quickly discipline employees in situations like this one is a disservice to both their peers and the veterans they serve. Creating a better work environment and a better VA for veterans must begin with more accountability, not less.

We ask that, no later than April 21, 2023, you review the failed proposed disciplinary actions in this case and provide a written response to the following questions: (1) Does VA have the authority it needs to remove problematic employees like the Loma Linda supervisory employee; and (2) Would you work for this supervisory employee?



Member of Congress

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