Over two years ago, the scandal at the Phoenix VA sent shockwaves through the veteran and military community. The secret waiting lists kept by several VA employees had veterans waiting months and years–some even dying–waiting for the healthcare they so rightfully earned. The outrageous wrongdoing was so unthinkable to most, it managed to bring the failures the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) had been struggling with for decades, into the national spotlight.
IAVA immediately called for accountability at all levels, starting from the top. The Obama Administration and Congress acted swiftly, firing then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and passing the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (VACAA). VACAA aimed to not only make healthcare more easily attainable for veterans but also ensure VA employees at all levels were held accountable for what occurred at the Phoenix VA and any misconduct moving forward.
A key component of VACAA allows the Secretary of VA to quickly and efficiently remove career senior executives who engage in misconduct or gross incompetence and greatly limits employee’s right to appeal the decision of removal. Without this important piece of the law, career executives at the VA could virtually never be fired–spending months or years in a black hole of administrative and judicial proceedings. It is exactly this portion of VACAA that is under attack.
Sharon Helman, one of the Senior Executive Service employees at the center of the Phoenix VA scandal, who was removed for her serious misconduct. Helman is arguing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that VACAA cannot constitutionally prevent a VA employee’s right to appeal the decision of removal. IAVA is once again proud to stand in a coalition of twelve veteran and military service organizations by filing an amicus brief in the case of Sharon M. Helman v. Department of Veterans Affairs. We are asking the Court to defend VACAA and the rights of our combined millions of members across the nation.
Helman will set an important precedent and will have tremendous significance for the millions of veterans, many of them IAVA members, who depend on VA hospitals across the country for their care. The right of veterans to have access to timely and quality healthcare is a right IAVA has sought to uphold and continues to advocate and fight for, not just for the post-9/11 generation, but for all those veterans who came before and for those who will come after. If the Department of Veterans Affairs is not allowed to hold it’s own employees accountable for misconduct harmful to the very veterans it seeks to serve, can veterans and their healthcare really be put first and confidence be restored?