Lawmakers Want to Reduce the Number of VA Facilities


By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs are taking a hard look at VA facilities across the country to determine which ones have been outlived their usefulness. Many aging and underused facilities could be subject to closure.

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said that the agency is considering a plan to close more than 1,100 facilities across the country, given that the VA continues to allow a larger number of veterans access to private sector health care.

Shulkin told a House hearing that the department has identified 735 underused facilities. There are also 430 empty buildings, most of which were constructed around 90 years ago.

Committee Chairman Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., the ranking Democrat, want to create a paid commission to recommend which facilities should be closed.  Their bill, the Asset Infrastructure Review Act (AIR) is in its early stages. As it is currently written, the bill would require Shulkin publish the criteria to be used in choosing which facilities to close, modernize or realign in the Federal Register by January 15, which is less than two months away.

Shulkin said the VA and Congress would work together to review buildings for possible closure, possibly using a process like Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), which the Pentagon has used in the past to determine which underutilized military bases should be closed.

But the BRAC process has been controversial, raising concerns among members of Congress about the negative financial impact of closing military bases in their districts.

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Congressman Seeks Second Chance for Vets Facing Deportation

deported vets

By Debbie Gregory.

One path to U.S. citizenship is through military service. In fact, joining the U.S. military has always been one of the fastest ways to become a U.S. citizen. The American Civil Liberties Union reported last year that many servicemembers don’t realize their naturalization is not automatic. And unfortunately, veterans who get in trouble prior to completing the process can be deported.

Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), who serves on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is seeking a second chance for veterans who were convicted of crimes and face the possibility of deportation.

Takano introduced legislation that would have the Department of Homeland Security consider a veteran’s moral character and honorable service above a criminal conviction when reviewing their application for citizenship.

The Second Chance for Service Act provides the Department of Homeland Security with flexibility to approve a veteran’s naturalization application despite criminal convictions in their record. It excludes veterans convicted of aggravated felonies, such as murder, rape, sexual abuse of a minor, child pornography, human trafficking and treason.

The bill, the “Second Chance for Service Act,” would only apply to honorably discharged veterans.

Veteran and immigration advocates have confirmed more than 3,000 veteran deportation cases.

A 2016 ACLU report, “Discharged, Then Discarded,” found that deported veterans were in the U.S. legally, but had sustained physical wounds and emotional trauma in conflicts as far back as the war in Vietnam. Deportation is a lifetime punishment that never would have happened if the government had ensured their right to be naturalized.

“America is a country that believes in second chances, and few deserve a second chance as much as these veterans,” Takano said on his website. “Treating people who risked their lives for freedom so callously violates the respect and gratitude we owe to all who have served.”

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Should VA Be Able to Fire Employee Watching Porn?


By Debbie Gregory.

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin feels that Congress should provide him more disciplinary power to the VA when it comes to firing employees in certain situations. He is using a recent attempt to fire a pornography watching employee to demonstrate why.

The House passed legislation March 16 that cuts the advance written notice given to VA employees to ten (10) days. The bill, HR 1259, would also shorten the time employees have to appeal and require faster determinations from those who hear the appeals.

An employee at the VA Medical Center in Houston was caught watching pornography, in the presence of a veteran patient. But because of the current appeals process, the VA cannot yet fire the worker.

Under current law, the Department of Veterans Affairs must continue to pay employees who are in the process of being removed. During this advance notice period, at least thirty (30) days from the date that the employee’s removal has been proposed, assuming there is no evidence that the employee has committed a crime, an employee must be paid.

If the employee has been assessed as a potential danger to veterans, the employee should be placed on administrative leave with pay. If the employee does not pose an immediate threat to veterans, they are typically placed on administrative duties that limit their contact with veterans and their families.

Secretary Shulkin is using this situation as an example of the department’s lengthy process for firing, demoting or suspending employees and why he thinks it needs to change.

It’s uncertain when the Senate will review the legislation, which has faced criticism from a federal union that believes it does away with employees’ due process rights. A similar bill stalled last year after passing the House.

“We’re taking a hard stance we want this employee removed, and we do not believe the current laws allow us to do that quickly enough,” Shulkin said.

Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, has warned that the bill’s aggressiveness would lead to another stall in the Senate.

Walz said he supported giving Shulkin more firing authority but took issue with a part of the legislation that would remove employees’ options to initiate a grievance procedure through their unions. The American Federation of Government Employees, a union that represents 220,000 VA employees, came out strongly against the bill — especially that provision.

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