2 years ago

Good news, Alabama vets: Bill making it easier to fire bad VA employees passes House

WASHINGTON — The United States House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that would make it easier to fire poor performing VA employees and also increased protections for whistleblowers who expose corruption and maleficence in the system.

The VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act, would allow the Secretary of Veterans Affairs more flexibility to fire, demote or otherwise punish mid-to-lower level employees for misconduct or poor performance. Currently, stricter accountability measures only apply to senior managers and not rank-and-file employees.

U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R-Ala.), who co-sponsored the bill, said the legislation will improve care for veterans.

“The Central Alabama VA (CAVHCS) was home to some of the worst abuses nationwide,” she said. “Because of the corruption and misconduct we exposed, the director became the first senior manager fired for cause under the new VA accountability law. That was certainly needed, but it didn’t go far enough.”

RELATED: Central Alabama VA director removed as scandals continue to pile up

In 2014, a federal audit included CAVHCS among 84 VA facilities nationwide cited for unethical practices.

According to Department of Veterans Affairs data obtained by USA Today through a Freedom of Information Act request, CAVHCS had the eighth longest average wait time of the entire VA system. Veterans had to wait an average of 51.5 days for an appointment at VA hospitals in Montgomery. The national average was 27.4.

To make matters worse, CAVHCS employees had created an elaborate scheme to hide the fact that they were not delivering timely care to their patients.

The director of the facility originally told Rep. Roby that he had fired the offending employees. Yellowhammer learned two days later that he had, in fact, not fired the employees, but instead had fired the whistleblowers who reported the wrongdoing.

Other scandals erupted as well, including revelations that a CAVHCS employee had taken a recovering vet to a crack house in Tuskegee to buy illegal drugs and solicit a prostitute.

“I’ve said all along that the blame for what happened does not rest with one person alone,” Roby said Wednesday. “There has been a culture of complacency at the VA throughout the ranks because mid-to-lower level employees know they can almost never be fired. This reform bill changes that by finally giving the VA Secretary the authority to swiftly fire, demote or otherwise punish employees for poor performance or misconduct.”

Roby’s efforts led to the Central Alabama VA director being the first senior manager in the country fired under the reform law enacted in 2014. However, that law only allowed the Secretary to deal with senior leaders, not mid-to-lower level employees. The bill passed this week would expand those measures down the ranks to ensure all employees can be held accountable for misconduct or poor performance in the treatment of veterans.

Roby also lauded the whistleblower protections contained in the bill, calling the treatment of her sources “a disgrace.”

“The bill also enhances protections for whistleblowers, and I cannot emphasize enough how important that is. If it weren’t for the brave whistleblowers who told me the truth, who knows if we’d have ever gotten to the bottom of the problems in Central Alabama. And, the way they were treated was a disgrace. There need to be real consequences for intimidating or retaliating against whistleblowers, and this bill delivers just that.”

Roby’s office released the following summary of the new bill, which will now move to the Senate for consideration:

• Authorizes the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to fire, or demote any VA employee for performance or misconduct.
• Employees would be afforded due process, including an expedited appeal to the Merit Systems Protections Board;
• Authorizes the Secretary to reduce a senior manager’s pension if they are convicted of a felony related to their job.
• Enhances protections for whistleblowers by providing additional reporting mechanisms and mandating that any supervisor found to have retaliated against a whistleblower be suspended or terminated, with the possibility of bonus recoupment.
• Improves the VA’s appeals process by giving veterans more options and better clarity for pursuing an appeal.
More information about the bill is available on the House Veterans Affairs Committee website.

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4 hours ago

Evidence mounts of full-scale Russian campaign to undermine American energy

The U.S. government for the first time ever blamed Russia for hacking into American energy infrastructure. The Trump administration action comes a little over two weeks after a House committee detailed Russian attempts to influence energy markets.

U.S. officials said a “multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors” that began in March 2016, possibly earlier, is part of a campaign to target critical infrastructure, including energy, nuclear and aviation facilities.


The FBI and Department of Homeland Security on Thursday said hackers targeted small facilities “where they staged malware, conducted spear phishing, and gained remote access into energy sector networks,” Reuters reported.

It’s the first time the U.S. has directly called out Moscow for infrastructure hacking. It’s still unclear whether or not the hacks were successful or led to any damage, and the security alert did not name the companies targeted.

The Trump administration condemnation comes more than two weeks after the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology found Russian agents used social media outlets to embolden opposition to American energy production.

“Russia exploited American social media as part of its concerted effort to disrupt U.S. energy markets and influence domestic energy policy,” reads the committee’s report on Russian activities.

The committee found accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian troll farm, published 9,097 social media posts from 2015 to 2017 targeting energy policies and projects. Thirteen Russians connected to IRA were indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller.

“The IRA targeted pipelines, fossil fuels, climate change, and other divisive issues to influence public policy in the U.S.,” the House committee found.

For years, Republicans and energy industry experts have worried Russian money was being used to undermine U.S. energy policy.

Intelligence officials confirmed in early 2017 in a declassified report on election meddling that the state-owned media outlet Russia Today (RT) ran “anti-fracking programming, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health.”

The House committee began the investigation in 2017 and asked Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to investigate whether or not Russians were using an offshore Bermuda-based law firm to funnel money to U.S. environmental groups.

Lawmakers asked Mnuchin to investigate whether or not the U.S.-based environmental group, the Sea Change Foundation, took $23 million from a Bermuda-based shell company with ties to Russian oligarchs in 2010 and 2011.

Sea Change gave millions to U.S.-based environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters. All of those groups oppose hydraulic fracturing.

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5 hours ago

VIDEO: PA-18’s lessons — dangerous teachers — student walkouts … and more on Guerrilla Politics

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Dr. Waymon Burke take you through this week’s biggest political stories including:

— Were the results in Pennsylvania’s special election a rejection of Trump or Pelosi?

— Why did the executive director of the state’s superintendent association imply teachers were unstable and dangerous?

— Will the student walkouts bring about some real change on gun issues?

Clayton Hinchman joins Jackson and Burke to discuss his campaign for Congress in Alabama’s 5th Congressional District.

Jackson closes the show with a “Parting Shot” directed at Hillary Clinton where he begs her never stop talking.

6 hours ago

AlabamaWorks! is holding a career event for students to learn about jobs in the state

Edie Gibson and Antiqua Cleggett talk “Worlds of Work at SkillsUSA” which will be held April 24-25 at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Complex.

Worlds of Work at SkillsUSA is designed to help 8-12th grade students “connect the dots” and clearly identify steps toward a college or career pathway as they enter their high school education.

More information is available here.

Subscribe to the Yellowhammer Radio Presents The Ford Faction podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.

7 hours ago

Wounded Warrior running for Alabama State House representing Chambers and Lee Counties

Back in 2003, while U.S. Army Specialist Todd Rauch and his buddies were patrolling the streets of Abu Ghraib, an Iraqi city made famous by its notorious prison, a remotely-detonated mortar exploded near his patrol. His right shoulder and hand were severely injured in the blast.

Rauch was eventually flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and endured 12 surgeries to save his limbs from amputation.

He is now running as a Republican for the State House of Representatives district representing Chambers and Lee Counties.

So how did this Illinois-native find himself running for office in Alabama?

While recovering at the hospital, Rauch’s roommate was from Fort Payne and “all he talked about was Auburn and Auburn and Auburn,” Rauch told Yellowhammer News.


Rauch soon recovered from his injuries, and then his plans for a transition to civilian life became all about … Auburn, Auburn, Auburn.

“I applied to Auburn and felt like it was a good place to get a fresh start,” he said

Rauch studied psychology at Auburn University, with the intention of working in veteran services or military intelligence. He then worked for a time as an intelligence analyst and then began working in veterans’ services, helping his brothers and sisters in arms receive the benefits they were promised.

He’s running on a platform strengthening communities.

Rauch has a firm conviction that a community’s representative ought to be more present in the community itself, something he said he hasn’t seen much at the 75 city and county commission meetings he has attended over the last few years.

“I realized that there was no one there who was representing us in Montgomery to take those voices and those issue and those problems to Montgomery,” he said.

Rauch has put improving jobs and education among his platform principles.

He is a stanch supporter of the community college system, of which both he and his wife are products.

“It’s a good and affordable way to get your education and to get experience in college without jumping into a four-year university,” he said.

Rauch also supports expanding broadband access to rural areas. He said it is critical to the development of rural areas that have little internet and cell service.

“You’re not able to do your banking,” he said. “Some of these people aren’t even able to have home security systems because some of that works off of cell service.”

With the campaign motto, “Community. Country. Service,” Rauch said he wants to work to improve life for his constituents, and by extension, the rest of the state and country.

“Focusing on the community creates better environment for the kids, inspires better leaders, and provides better community for our state, and provides a better state for our country,” he said.

The GOP primary is June 5.

(Image: Todd Rauch for Alabama/Facebook)

The conservative alternative to Martha Roby gains momentum as Terry Everett, lawmakers endorse Barry Moore

State Rep. Barry Moore’s campaign for Congress recently received strong endorsements from the district’s former congressman and a dozen of Alabama’s most conservative state lawmakers.

“Since I left Congress, government has grown, our representation has wavered, and District 2 values have been casted aside,” said former Republican Congressman Terry Everett, who represented the district from 1993-2009. “We need to make a change, and I am privileged to support Representative Barry Moore for Congress.”

Everett’s powerful endorsement comes days after 12 of the state’s most conservative lawmakers gathered in Montgomery to endorse Barry Moore, whose conservative record they witnessed firsthand while working alongside him in the State Legislature.

Wetumpka State Rep. Mike Holmes told reporters that the district has “an opportunity to send a strong, unapologetic conservative to Washington,” and Montgomery State Rep. Dimitri Polizos agreed, saying that Moore is a “proven conservative leader” who will “stand with President Trump and give our district the representation it deserves.”

Visit Barry Moore’s website, his Facebook page and @RepBarryMoore on Twitter to learn why Terry Everett and others believe in his vision to Make Alabama Great Again!

(Paid for by Barry Moore for Congress)