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House clears major Veterans Affairs reform bill, sends to White House

The bill passed on a bipartisan 368-55 vote.

ByABC News
June 13, 2017, 7:01 PM

— -- The House overwhelmingly approved a bill to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs Tuesday, sending the measure to the White House for President Trump’s signature.

The bill, passed on a bipartisan 368-55 vote, would make it easier for the VA Secretary to fire department employees, a move that advocates say would improve accountability at the scandal-plagued agency.

It would also boost protections for whistleblowers that report wrongdoing, and create an office within the VA to support whistleblower protections.

Congress set its sights on VA reform in 2014, after a whistleblower claimed that roughly 40 veterans died waiting up to 21 months for care at a VA hospital in Phoenix. That scandal led to the resignation of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in May of 2014.

“It’s common sense -– we need to hold our employees accountable for their actions if they violate the public trust, and at the same time protect whistleblowers from retaliation,” Secretary David Shulkin, who supported the bill, said in a statement.

Speaking on the House floor, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California), said the bill addresses the VA’s “culture of ambivalence” and “lack of accountability.”

“Fixing the culture at the VA requires us to acknowledge the great work of the many without leaving them tainted with the incompetence and scandal of the few," he said. "It requires removing the bad apples."

Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minnesota), the top Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said in a statement that the bill “will bring real, long-lasting accountability” to the VA “in a way that will stand up to constitutional muster.”

The bill was criticized by American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 700,000 federal workers. The group claimed the measure is anti-union and would undermine due process for workers.

“To call this a dangerous precedent is an understatement," J. David Cox, the union’s national president, said in a May hearing before the Senate. "To anyone who cares about the apolitical and objectively qualified civil service this bill is a disgrace."

The Senate previously approved the bill on a unanimous voice vote.

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