Election 2020

Veterans Group Targets 15 Senate Dems in Ads Pushing VA Reform Bill

Image Via Barbara Kalbfleisch and Shutterstock

The veterans organization Concerned Veterans For America (CVA) is launching a six-figure ad buy targeting seventeen Senators, fifteen of them Democrats, pushing the VA Accountability First Act of 2017, which passed the House of Representatives last month and has not yet been scheduled for a vote in the Senate.

“Veterans shouldn’t have to suffer at the hands of incompetent or negligent VA employees,” CVA Executive Director Mark Lucas said in a statement. “We urge the Senate to prioritize sending the VA Accountability First Act to President Trump’s desk.”

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin himself endorsed the bill, after an employee watched pornography on the job, in view of a veteran, and could not be fired immediately afterward. “I need the authority as secretary to remove these people immediately,” Shulkin declared. He said employees “who don’t show up to work, who do cocaine, and who are watching porn at work, are gonna be fired, because I’m not gonna tolerate it.”

Under current law, even a cabinet secretary like Shulkin cannot immediately dismiss a bad employee. But porn is not the only issue. Recently, the Houston VA falsified wait times, an Oklahoma veteran died with maggots in his wound at the VA, and it was reported that VA employees worked over 1 million hours for unions on the taxpayers’ dime.

“The Senate has a real opportunity to pass strong VA accountability measures this year, and they should take it,” Lucas declared. “The VA Accountability First Act of 2017 will help Secretary Shulkin get rid of the bad VA employees who drive a toxic culture and fail to give our veterans the care they need.”

The CVA ads launched on Tuesday morning. “How many more veterans will die waiting for care at the Department of Veterans Affairs?” the ad’s narrator asks. “How many more will be neglected by the people hired to serve them? How many more will suffer before the Senate acts?”

“The VA Accountability First Act will help fix the VA, getting bad employees out, saving the lives of American heroes,” the ad concludes. It urges viewers to contact their Senators and urge passage of the legislation.

These digital ads are targeting 15 Democrat Senators, but with a special emphasis on Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). These Democrats are in states won by President Trump last November.

But the ads are targeting some Republicans as well as Democrats. Most of the other Senators targeted by CVA’s ads also represent states Trump won in November. Those include Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Robert Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

The ad also set its sights on Senators in states won by Clinton, including Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Dean Heller (R-Nev.).

These digital ads are part of a major campaign, including thousands of phone calls to constituents and the launch of a digital tool connecting CVA activists directly with their Senators’ offices via email and social media.

But the VA Accountability First Act is not without its critics. American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) National President J. David Cox Sr. attacked the bill as a “union-busting bill — plain and simple.” Cox argued that the bill “will only advance the agenda of the Koch brothers, anti-union lawmakers, and private, for-profit corporations that would reap the benefits of a dismantled VA medical system.”

“Backhanded efforts to eliminate employees’ workplace rights does nothing to improve the VA or veterans’ care,” he argued.

But his criticisms ring hollow in light of recent events — from porn, to wait times, to maggots. What “rights” should employees engaging in such practices have? It also seems natural that the AFGE president would defend the status quo, since VA employees worked over 1 million hours on the taxpayer’s dime for unions last year.

As CVA explains, “the 2017 VA Accountability First Act would drastically shorten the overall termination and appeals process for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees who are found to have engaged in misconduct.” Shortening the firing process for bad actors from months or years to hours or days is an important step in the right direction.

Finally, the bill also would give the VA secretary the ability to reduce the pensions of VA employees who are convicted of felonies that influenced their job performance. Is this really an unconscionable “union-busting” bill, or is it just common sense?