WASHINGTON, DC -- U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and members of the Conference Committee tasked with finalizing VA reform legislation approved a bipartisan agreement last night, advancing their report to the floors of the full House and Senate, respectively. The approval comes after Rep. Michaud worked with leaders on both sides of the aisle to finalize a bipartisan agreement over the weekend. Michaud serves as Ranking Member on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.
|Rep. Michaud, Ranking Member on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, signs VA conference report.|
"This is an important milestone as we continue our efforts to improve the VA and ensure veterans can easily access high-quality services and benefits," said Michaud. "This is how our legislative process should work -- we put politics aside and crafted a path forward for the VA that will, ultimately, ensure every single veteran using the system achieves the strong outcomes they deserve. But this is just one of many steps we must take to improve the VA -- our work must continue over the coming weeks, months, and even years."
Last week, Michaud spoke with VA Secretary nominee Bob McDonald about the need for longer-term reforms across the VA over the coming months and years. McDonald is expected to receive a confirmation vote in the Senate later today. And yesterday, Michaud spoke with President Obama following the announcement of the bipartisan deal. The President thanked Michaud for his continued work across the aisle on the issue.
A number of Michaud's provisions were included in the final conference report, such as:
· An extension of Project ARCH for Maine veterans. ARCH serves approximately 1,400 veterans in Maine, allowing them to seek access to healthcare closer to their homes and support networks. For many veterans in Northern Maine, ARCH allows them to get quality healthcare without having to travel hundreds of miles to Togus. A full timeline of ARCH's history in Maine is available here.
• In addition to extending Project ARCH, Rep. Michaud also secured provisions in the final bill that extend stricter accountability measures to Title 38 employees within the VA's senior executive ranks. The House passed a bill in May that made it easier to remove a small portion of VA senior executives responsible for shortcomings in care -- but left untouched the nearly 80,000 Title 38 employees in the upper ranks of the VA. Michaud introduced legislation, H.R. 4399, that would have extended the strict accountability standards to all Title 38 employees as well -- and language from his bill is now included in the final conference report.
This was the first time there has been a Veterans' Affairs conference on legislation since 1999.
|Rep. Michaud, along with Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) sign bipartisan VA agreement.|
A Closer Look at VA Reform: Michaud Provision Expands Accountability
WASHINGTON, DC -- A provision Rep. Mike Michaud secured in the bipartisan Department of Veterans Affairs deal that passed out of Conference Committee last night will expand accountability measures within the senior leadership of the VA to include Title 38 employees occupying administrative or executive positions. The provision is meant to ensure that the Secretary of the VA does not face serious hurdles in taking action against senior employees for poor performance and misconduct.
"Over the course of our Committee's oversight hearings, we have learned that some of the employees involved in egregious wrongdoings within the VA -- at Phoenix and at other facilities -- were in fact Title 38 employees in administrative or executive positions. While the initial legislation we passed in the House only included stricter accountability measures for a small portion of the VA executives, I am glad we were able to include Title 38 employees in the final conference bill," said Michaud. "Strengthening transparency and accountability within the VA requires us to have mechanisms in place that allow the Secretary to take appropriate action toward any and all employees in positions of power, and that is what we've accomplished in our final agreement."
Michaud introduced legislation, H.R. 4399, the Comprehensive Department of Veterans Affairs Performance Management and Accountability Reform Act of 2014, prior to the full impact of the scandal in Phoenix coming to light. Michaud's legislation was meant as a more comprehensive version of a GOP bill that only applied to a small portion of VA senior executives. While the Republican-controlled House ultimately passed the narrow version, Michaud worked throughout the conference process to ensure the more comprehensive accountability measures he initially proposed were included in the final bill.
"Expanding transparency and accountability are central to changing the culture within the VA," added Michaud. "I'm confident that including Title 38 employees in administrative or executive positions under these new guidelines will help foster a culture driven by a desire to serve veterans, rather than meet vague metrics."
In addition to expanding accountability measures to Title 38 employees in administrative or executive positons, Michaud secured an extension of Maine's ARCH program. Project ARCH, came to the state several years ago after Michaud included a provision listing Maine as a site in legislation he helped pass. It serves about 1,400 veterans across Maine, and allows them to receive high-quality healthcare closer to home, rather than traveling hundreds of miles to Togus. Without action, ARCH would have expired at the end of September.