JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – The chairman of Tennessee’s American Legion Legislative Committee says he plans on pushing for change after seeing the results of our Community Watchdog investigation into VA discipline.
“I was horrified,” Bob Hensley said after learning three employees substantiated for abuse kept their jobs. “I found it very disturbing.”
Hensley is also a member of the American Legion National Legislative Commission. The group meets annually with federal lawmakers in Washington, DC. He knows the acts of some don’t reflect the majority of the people who work at Mountain Home, but he says their punishment does reflect the VA’s lack of accountability. He intends to address the issue when he heads to the nation’s capital in 2017.
“That has to change and that is one of the things we’ll be discussing in February,” he said. “I’ll also be talking about our local VA, the good things, but also the things that we expect Congress to fix,” he said. “Such as changing the rules about how we can discipline those who do these horrific things to our veterans.”
Public records revealed internal investigations that substantiated the disrespect and abuse of Mountain Home VA Medical Center patients. In those cases, management punished the employees, but let them keep their jobs, according to disciplinary records.
Documents suggest the union represented all three employees involved in those abuse cases and advocated for lesser punishments. The employees did not have any past disciplinary action and haven’t had any problems since, according to the VA.
Our latest review of federal records suggests the VA had the authority to fire the people in the abuse cases, but chose not to. Disciplinary records show Mountain Home could have just reprimanded the employees, removed them or anything in between. Management ended up issuing multi-day suspensions, which were described as penalties consistent with other employees who committed the offense for the first time.
Mountain Home officials have maintained discipline isn’t meant to punish employees, but instead change their behavior. The VA relies on a progressive table of penalties that takes into account the seriousness of the act and the employee’s history.
A bill that would make it easier for the VA to fire employees and speed up the disciplinary process is now in the hands of the U.S. Senate.
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