The House could vote this week to join the Senate in passing a benefits bill for veterans exposed to toxic chemicals from military burn pits that also includes a number of provisions for higher basic pay and incentive payments for certain VA employees.
The measure (HR-3967) also contains a number of provisions aimed at improving hiring at the department, which has a long history of high vacancy rates in certain occupations.
Meanwhile, members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee of both parties have indicated an intent to advance a bill that would reverse some of the special whistleblower-related policies applying at the VA under a 2017 law that established an Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection to receive and investigate allegations of retaliation outside the standard processes.
However, that office—created in the wake of scandals first arising in 2014 and the surge of complaints that higher-level officials had retaliated against employees who made those disclosures or cooperated in investigations–itself later became a subject of controversy over its handling of such allegations. That resulted in new leadership and operational changes but at a hearing last week committee members argued that more needs to be done.
They indicated they will push for changes including strengthening that office’s independence from VA management; moving its investigative role to the Office of Special Counsel, which performs that function for whistleblowers from other agencies; clarify what constitutes whistleblowing; strengthen protections against disciplinary actions against employees while their complaints are being investigated; add protections against settlement negotiations being dragged out by the department; and more.