April 11, 2022

Manchin Bill to Strengthen VA Oversight Unanimously Passes Senate

Washington, DC – Bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jon Tester (D-MT) and John Boozman (R-AR), members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC), unanimously passed the Senate. The Senators’ Strengthening Oversight for Veterans Act of 2021 would provide the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) the authority to subpoena testimony from former VA employees who have left federal service, former contractor personnel who performed work for the VA or other potentially relevant individuals during the course of its inspections, reviews and investigations.

“Our Veterans have made great sacrifices to protect our nation,” said Senator Manchin. “Now, it is our duty to take care of them and that starts with ensuring accountability at the VA. West Virginia Veterans have experienced the horrific impacts of top-down VA leadership failures, resulting in the tragic deaths of seven Veterans at the Clarksburg VA Medical Center. The OIG currently does not have testimonial subpoena powers, which resulted in the OIG having limited authority during the Clarksburg VAMC investigation. Our bipartisan legislation addresses this oversight by granting the OIG the authority to conduct thorough investigations. I’m pleased our bill has unanimously passed the Senate and I look forward to President Biden signing this important legislation into law.”

“We’ve got to see to it that the VA Office of Inspector General has the tools to provide additional oversight over the Department on behalf of veterans and taxpayers,” Senator Tester said. “The Senate’s unanimous passage of our bipartisan bill means we’re one step closer to providing this important watchdog with greater ability to detect fraud, abuse and waste at all levels, and I encourage my House colleagues to pass it without delay.”

“Expanding the VA OIG’s authority so it can conduct more thorough investigations will improve transparency and accountability, ensuring our veterans get the care and services they have earned,” Senator Boozman said. “Passage of this bipartisan legislation delivers on our commitment to make sure we fulfill the promises made to veterans. I urge the House of Representatives to follow the Senate’s lead and deliver this much-needed reform to the president’s desk.”
Under current law, the VA OIG does not have testimonial subpoena authority to compel individuals relevant to investigations to answer questions in person and under oath. This can limit both VA OIG and Congress’ ability to conduct complete and thorough reviews, including of VA healthcare and benefits programs, management actions and contracts.
Last year, VA OIG issued a concerning report tied to the horrific events at the VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia where a former VA nursing assistant was convicted of seven counts of murder and one count of assault with the intent to commit murder of Veterans receiving care at the facility. The report noted the lack of testimonial subpoena authority limited the VA OIG’s ability to conduct a more thorough review of the incident. VA OIG has also identified at least five other investigations since 2017 where this authority would have assisted the independent watchdog in investigating patient safety, procurement and ethical conflicts of interest.
The Senators’ efforts to improve oversight for Veterans and taxpayers has strong backing from leading advocates:
“The VFW believes the OIG performs a critical role in overseeing and investigating the practices of VA, and a vital component of this role is currently lacking,” said Pat Murray, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) National Legislative Director. “The Strengthening Oversight for Veterans Act of 2021 would provide the OIG a missing tool in its toolbox to properly ensure that office can oversee the department more effectively.”
“The Project On Government Oversight is proud to support the Strengthening Oversight for Veterans Act of 2021,” said Liz Hempowicz, Project On Government Oversight’s Director of Public Policy. “This bill will dramatically improve oversight at the VA by eliminating a longstanding loophole that allows VA employees to escape independent oversight by simply resigning from their post. This is not a reform in search of a problem – but a well thought through solution to an obvious problem. I applaud Senators Tester, Boozman, and Manchin for this important effort to better serve our veterans and taxpayers.”

The full text of the legislation is available here.