05:13 - Source: CNN
VA hospital delays costing lives

Story highlights

A CNN investigation in 2013-2014 revealed dozens of veterans died while waiting for care

The bill gives the Veterans Administration chief the authority to fire employees who act improperly

CNN —  

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation Tuesday giving the leadership of the Department of Veterans Affairs the ability to fire employees for misconduct and protect those who uncover wrongdoing at the agency.

The vote was 368-55.

The legislation follows several high profile scandals that included veterans dying waiting to get appointments at VA hospitals and one top manager at a Wisconsin facility who widely distributed narcotics got a bonus, even after a patient died of an overdose.

A CNN investigation in 2013 and 2014 revealed dozens of veterans died or were seriously injured while waiting for care in hospitals across the country and that some VA facilities covered up extreme delays. The scandal, which led to the resignation of then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, became national news after CNN revealed the existence of a secret scheduling list at the VA in Phoenix, where hospital employees allegedly cooked the books to make the wait times appear less severe than they were.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on the House floor said about the string of problems at the agency, “this has happened for years.”

“Years where a person who was jailed got leave to serve time and then returned to the VA. Years where an employee showed up drunk to work and participated in a surgery. Years where a psychiatrist watched deeply inappropriate videos with a veteran in the room.” He noted, “after years of all this and none of them getting fired, the good employees become dispirited. The culture at the VA will decline. And too many of our veterans receive low-quality care, if they can get care at all.”

The bill gives the VA secretary the authority to fire employees who act improperly, and strengthens so-called “whistleblower” protections for those who report any wrongdoing. Leaders in Congress blamed bureaucratic red tape that prevented swift action by managers working to reform the system inside the agency that often made it difficult for veterans to get needed medical attention.

“With this legislation, Secretary (David) Shulkin will have the tools that he needs to deliver the kind of change that our veterans have been demanding. And most fundamentally, it will assure veterans that when we say that we are a grateful nation, we mean it,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters on Tuesday.

The Senate passed the bill last week so the measure moves to the President’s desk for his signature.

Trump mentioned Congress’ work on the issue at a Monday meeting with his cabinet. He noted that the bill will “ensure employees of the VA can be held accountable if they fail our great veterans.”

CNN’s Patricia DiCarlo contributed to this report.