WASHINGTON — House lawmakers easily finalized legislation Wednesday to let Veterans Affairs officials more easily identify and react to problems with their own health care facilities, as part of a broader effort to encourage accountability among department workers.
The legislation, dubbed the Enhancing Veteran Care Act, was passed by the Senate last month and by a 423-0 vote on Wednesday. It now heads to the White House to be signed into law.
It allows VA regional directors to contract with accredited nonprofits to investigate their medical centers, uncovering inefficiencies and mistakes that require correction. Supporters framed the measure as a chance for VA officials to more quickly react to problems in their own operations, instead of waiting for lengthy investigations by the department’s inspector general.
Bill sponsor Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said last month after the Senate’s passage of the measure that the move will allow VA facilities to be “held to the highest standards” of federal and private sector expectations.
“Medical center directors should have the permanent authority to request outside oversight to get help improving their facilities,” he said.
Under the bill, findings from any outside audits must be coordinated with the department’s inspector general and Government Accountability Office leaders, to ensure transparency.
In recent years, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have criticized the slow pace of reforms at VA, and supported a series of accountability measures aimed at making it easier to dismiss employees for criminal actions and incompetence.
The new measure gives regional officials the chance to try and stave off similar criticism in the future, by proactively looking for problems before they turn into larger scandals. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe, R-Tenn., called it an important tool in improving the department.
“We are familiar with the challenges and scandals that have plagued the VA system since 2014,” Roe said Tuesday, in advance of the House vote. “(This legislation) would provide the VA an additional avenue to identify and resolve problems in the care our veterans receive.”
President Donald Trump is expected to sign the measure into law. If he does, it will be the seventh signficant veterans-themed policy change so far this year, making it one of the few areas of bipartisan progress in a politically divided Congress.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.