Senators Push to Strengthen Veterans Care Through Enhanced Cooperation Between VA Staff and Inspector General’s Office
WASHINGTON– U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH), both members of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, introduced the bipartisan VA OIG Training Act of 2021 to require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide training to employees on reporting waste, fraud and abuse. This training would be in coordination with the VA Office of the Inspector General (VA OIG), which serves veterans and the public by conducting meaningful independent oversight of the VA.
“Our veterans deserve nothing short of high-quality care, and the Inspector General’s Office plays an important role in helping ensure the VA is meeting its lawful obligations,” Boozman said. “Our bill will help foster cooperation between VA employees and the Inspector General so that reporting wrongdoing is a process all employees are trained in. Protecting our former servicemembers from negligence or willful misconduct must be a top priority.”
“VA employees must know to speak up if they see concerns with veterans’ care or other waste, fraud, and abuse,” said Senator Hassan. “This bipartisan bill will help ensure that VA employees are vigilant in order to protect the benefits and care that veterans have earned and deserve. Any wasted VA resource is one taken from a veteran, so I urge my colleagues in the Senate to pass this important bill.”
“Effective oversight depends on VA employees reporting wrongdoing and cooperating fully with VA Office of Inspector General investigations, inspections, audits, and evaluations. Early and accurate reporting by VA staff can save patients’ lives, protect VA employees, ensure veterans timely receive needed benefits and services, and recoup billions of dollars in monetary recoveries and avoided costs,” said VA Inspector General Michael J. Missal. “This training will also advance the Secretary’s commitment to holding employees accountable, protecting whistleblowers and other complainants, and ensuring all information is obtained that contributes to fair and balanced oversight.”
Currently, the VA offers an optional, 45-minute whistleblower training to employees. However, many VA employees opt out of the training and often lack the skills to spot the early indicators of fraud and other potential crimes. This bill would make the one-time training mandatory in order to reduce fraud and protect taxpayer dollars. The legislation also allows the VA OIG to contact VA employees via email at least twice per year without having to seek permission from the VA Secretary, as currently is the case.
The bill comes on the heels of the VA OIG’s report about its investigation of former Fayetteville VA pathologist Dr. Robert M. Levy who regularly performed his duties while impaired leading to the misdiagnosis of thousands of veterans. The report identified fear of retaliation among VA staff as one cause for the failure of employees who had observed Levy’s impaired behavior to come forward.
“The tragedy that resulted from the inexcusable negligence and lack of accountability at the Fayetteville VA Medical Center must not be forgotten or allowed to occur again. Requiring whistleblower training and facilitating increased contact between Department employees and the OIG’s office will help foster more awareness about when and how to report wrongdoing or suspicious behavior. This must happen in order to protect our veterans and assure them, and their loved ones, that their care is coming at the hands of qualified and trusted providers,” Boozman said