Chairman Bost, Rep. Obernolte Continue to Press VA on Lack of Accountability at Loma Linda
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mike Bost (R-Ill.), and Rep. Jay Obernolte (R-Calif.), released the following letter they sent to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Denis McDonough in response to the Secretary’s lackluster response to their April letter regarding 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 delivery of high-quality services to veterans.
“Failing to quickly and appropriately discipline employees in situations like the ones we see in Loma Linda is a disservice to both their peers and the veterans they serve,” the Members wrote in their letter. “Creating a better work environment and a better VA for veterans must begin with more accountability, not less. The Restore Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability Act will give VA the authority it needs to get rid of the few VA employees who hold the VA back.”
Chairman Bost and Rep. Obernolte continue to press VA on the employee situation at Loma Linda VAMC following 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 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 supervisor in question continues to be employed by VA despite thousands of pages of evidence suggesting they were creating a hostile environment at Loma Linda VAMC. Since investigating the Loma Linda VAMC, dozens of excellent VA employees have reached out to Chairman Bost and Rep. Obernolte’s teams to share their stories.
Full text of the letter the Members sent can be found here and below:
Dear Secretary McDonough:
Thank you for your partial response to our April 10, 2023, letter, which asked two questions: (1) Does the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have the authority it needs to remove problematic employees like the Loma Linda VA Medical Center (VAMC) supervisory employee; and (2) would you work for this supervisory employee?
In your letter, you recount the legacy discipline process that led VA to keep employing a sub-par supervisory employee despite roughly 4,000 pages of evidence proving they were creating an undeniably hostile environment at Loma Linda VAMC. Our constituents, including dozens of veterans and Loma Linda VAMC employees, have reached out to us to make clear that this is unacceptable.
We were also dissatisfied with your response, which did not adequately address what we were asking, to our second question, “Would you work for this supervisory employee?” We hope you never have to work for a supervisory employee who allegedly leads by making racially charged statements, forcing subordinates to give him meals and rides, lying to his subordinates, bribing his subordinates, retaliating against subordinates by giving them the worst work assignments, and consistently failing to perform his job. Unfortunately, VA employees must continue working for this individual, and potentially others like him.
Two positive developments have come out of this otherwise terrible situation. First, we have met with dozens of excellent VA employees who have felt empowered to tell us their stories, and second, we have been working with our colleagues to introduce H.R. 4278, the Restore Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability Act, which is designed to ensure that you have the tools you need to hold employees like this supervisory employee accountable. In communicating with Loma Linda VAMC employees, we learned that many of them believe their leadership is failing them. We were glad to meet with Dr. Braverman and Mr. Arnette who seemed to be leading Loma Linda VAMC in a positive direction.
We are concerned with the recent news that problematic leaders are returning to positions of leadership within Loma Linda VAMC. Under the status quo, an Administrative Investigation Board (AIB) report, which includes roughly 4,000 pages and 57 hours of incriminating evidence is apparently not enough to appropriately discipline an obviously problematic employee. We are more confident than ever that the Restore Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability Act is needed to ensure that both veterans and good VA employees are protected.
A significant proportion of VA employees, including the ones we’ve met at Loma Linda VAMC, want nothing more than to serve veterans. We want to reiterate that these are employees we are lucky to have in the VA system, as 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 and a few members of Loma Linda’s senior leadership are driving away VA’s most valued staff.
Failing to quickly and appropriately discipline employees in situations like the ones we see in Loma Linda 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. The Restore Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability Act will give VA the authority it needs to get rid of the few VA employees who hold the VA back.
We ask that, no later than August 21, 2023, you respond to the following document request. Please provide unredacted copies of documents produced since January 1, 2023, related to any Administrative Investigations Board (AIB), fact findings, and any other administrative investigations related to any GS-15 or SES Loma Linda VAMC employees (or their equivalents). When producing documents, please do not alter them in any way, including but not limited to application of redactions or a watermark. Additionally, digital copies should be provided in a format that enables their printing and copying by the Committee. We thank you for your assistance with this matter and for working with us to improve the quality of health care for the veterans we both serve.
Last week the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs reported out 11 bills, including Chairman Bost and Rep. Obernolte’s bipartisan, bicameral Restore VA Accountability Act (H.R. 4278). This legislation was crafted in response to the brave whistleblowers who have been interviewed by the Committee, and who have made it abundantly clear that in order to serve veterans with the level of service they have earned, problematic supervisory employees like the one at the Loma Linda VAMC must be a thing of the past. This would put veterans at the core of VA’s mission instead of subpar government employees. See the press release here.