The Department of Veterans Affairs said Monday that it is not using an aggressive new law to pursue discipline against two senior officials for their role in a scandal involving enrollment in the VA's healthcare program.
Instead, the VA is using another part of the federal code that gives officials much more notice and more time to fight any discipline they might face. That decision could lead to a lighter punishment, and the VA admitted so far that the two officials so far have just received "reprimands."
VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson told some news outlets on Friday that the VA was considering discipline against seven VA workers in total, including two senior officials. Those workers are reportedly involved in a scandal involving the enrollment of about 300,000 deceased veterans, which led to fears that some of those veterans may have died while awaiting healthcare.
Congress passed legislation in 2014 allowing the VA to fire corrupt or negligent senior officials. That law also gives them a much shorter appeal process.
But the VA told the Washington Examiner that it's not using that law, known as the Veterans' Choice Act, to discipline the two Senior Executive Service employees.
"The two SES employees in this case are receiving reprimands and the disciplinary procedures follow Title 5, not the provisions of the Choice Act," the VA told the Examiner.
Title 5 outlines how disciplinary actions can be brought against federal workers, but it includes terms much more favorable to those workers.
For example, the Choice Act lets the VA secretary fire a senior official, and gives those officials just seven days to file an appeal at the Merit Systems Protection Board. The MSPB then has 21 days to reach a verdict on whether the firing was justified.
Under Title 5, senior officials get a 30-day notice of a disciplinary action, and have seven days to reply with contrary evidence if they think the decision was not fair. After more back and forth, officials can then appeal to the MSPB.
A VA official indicated to the Examiner that the Choice Act is not being used because the VA may be seeking discipline that falls short of firing the two officials.
"The Choice Act only allows for Senior Executive Service (SES) actions related to removal or transfer from the SES under an abbreviated appeals process," the VA said. "Congress wrote it with the clear expectation that we would continue to take lesser actions, where warranted under the traditional, non-expedited process."
The VA added that the two senior officials are receiving "reprimands" in addition to "disciplinary procedures under Title 5."
The other five employees aren't SES workers, and thus can't be affected by the Choice Act. House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., has proposed legislation that would allow faster firing procedures for non-SES workers, but it has stalled in the Senate.
The VA said it would not be providing the names of any of the several officials at this point in the process.