In the News
Panama City News Herald
Mar 24 2017
Under the VA Accountability First Act of 2017, introduced in February, the VA secretary would have more flexibility to suspend or remove any VA employee for poor performance or misconduct.
PARKER — In 1995, Danny York was diagnosed with leukemia and given two years to live.
The Korean War veteran said he went to a Veterans Affairs (VA) clinic in Pensacola, where a physician’s assistant checked his heart and wrote down he wasn’t approved for treatment.
“I’m just not the same person,” said York, a member of the VFW Post 8205 in Parker. “Over the years things happened, and I fought harder and I’ve gotten some disability. ... Right now I’m 70 percent disabled.”
York’s experiences left him frustrated with the VA, and he is not the only local veteran who recounted bad experiences.
But legislation recently introduced in Congress is looking to solve the problem. Under the VA Accountability First Act of 2017, sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio and introduced in February by House Committee on Veterans Affairs Chairman Phil Roe, the VA secretary would have more flexibility to suspend or remove any VA employee for poor performance or misconduct.
Among other measures, the bill would provide improved protections for whistleblowers and allow the VA scretary to reduce an employee’s federal pension if they are convicted of a felony that influenced their job at the VA, according to a news release.
The bill passed the House and awaits action in the Senate.
York and several of his fellow Post 8205 members said they support the bill. Vietnam veteran Sam Snade, in particular, said despite veterans dealing with service-connected medical problems, the VA claims those health issues don’t stem from time spent in the military.
“Them people have got to go,” Snade said. “They move them from hospital to hospital.”
Another veteran who likes the bill is U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Panama City. The VA has a track record of unfortunate stories, including an inability to fire inefficient employees, said Dunn, who sits on the Committee on Veterans Affairs.
“This is nothing new,” Dunn said. “It’s gotten more deep-seated, and they have more employees.”
Other issues include a lack of clarity on how funding is spent and what’s happened to missing medication, Dunn said.
The Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System, which provides regional care from Panama City to Biloxi, Mississippi, declined to comment for this story and referred The News Herald to the national VA public affairs office, which did not respond to calls and emails.
Despite their support for the Accountability Act, some members of Post 8205 said they no longer use the VA and instead go to private doctors. And while they want to see an overhaul in the VA, they struck a grim and despondent tone when they considered how long that actually would take.
“It may change but most of us will be dead by the time that happens,” said Post 8205 Cmdr. Tony Salvo, who served during the Vietnam and Gulf wars.
“There’s thousands of men and women out there right now fighting for us,” York added. “They’re going to depend on that stuff.”