Military Connection: Should Vets Sue VA Employees? By Debbie Gregory

By Debbie Gregory

Toomey's Bill

In the wake of the controversy surrounding the VA scandal, there is  talk around the capitol that demands VA reform and righting wrongs against Veterans. Several new bills have been introduced in both the House and the Senate that negotiate the renovation of the VA healthcare system. At least two bills, one that has been passed in the House and a separate bill that passed in the Senate as an amended House approved bill, call for easier ways for VA leadership to punish and terminate VA employees. But one bill could subject VA employees to a lot more backlash.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) has introduced a bill in the Senate that would actually permit Veterans to sue VA employees who have been found to have falsified medical records. The senator said that his measure would be a means of holding the VA employees accountable to Veterans who have not received adequate healthcare.

The bill would entitle Veterans to receive copies of all VA communications, such as emails and memos, as to how employees maintained secret waiting lists. And the Veterans (or their survivors) would be eligible to collect compensation from the VA for any damages caused by delayed medical treatment. The damages awarded to Veterans would not come from taxpayer money, but from the individual VA employee whose misconduct caused the delay.

Toomey’s bill may get lost in the flurry of legislation on the subject of VA reform, including the Veterans’ Access to Care Through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014. That bill was co-sponsored by Toomey, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and has already passed in the Senate. It includes measures for firing VA employees, but not suing them.

But the bill does bring up an interesting legal question. Should Veterans be allowed to sue VA employees if they were further injured or delayed returning to work due to VA employee misconduct? If this legislation or a similar one were to pass, where would the ball stop rolling? Could Veterans or the sued VA employees go on to sue the lawmakers who established and maintained the bureaucracy that led to misconduct? Would anyone want to work for the VA? Where would it end?

While it’s true that accountability and repercussions for misconduct are necessary, it might seem that Toomey’s bill would provide more questions than resolutions… for the time being.

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Military Connection: Should Vets Sue VA Employees? By Debbie Gregory