Via St. Louis Today
WASHINGTON • Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer is introducing legislation that would withhold bonuses from senior Veterans Affairs officials if director positions at top VA facilities around the country go unfilled for more than 18 months.
It’s the latest attempt by members of Missouri’s delegation to get the VA to fill the top job at the St. Louis VA hospital, which has not had a permanent director for three years and has been filled by a succession of eight temporary administrators.
Luetkemeyer, R-St.Elizabeth, was expected to introduce his legislation Thursday. Its prospects of moving through the legislative process are cloudy given that the House is scheduled to meet only 35 days between now and the Nov. 8 election. But veterans and military-funding bills could host it as an amendment, and its introduction is a reflection of the rising discontent among St. Louis-area members of Congress over the inability of the VA to fill the job.
“Across the country, and in our backyard in St. Louis, we have seen long-term vacancies in these important jobs which are harming the health and the care of our nation’s veterans,” Luetkemeyer said. “This legislation will help ensure that individuals involved in the selection process of a VA Medical Director are held accountable to do their job in a timely manner. In addition, this legislation will help prevent the 34 VA medical facilities around the country currently operating without a permanent director from providing insufficient care to our veterans due to a lack of permanent direction and leadership.”
VA Secretary Robert McDonald told the Post-Dispatch last month that pay and politics were hindering his ability to fill the position.
McDonald, the former CEO of Procter & Gamble, said private hospitals can pay three times the $157,000 he can offer and that he is trying to get Congress to give him the flexibility to pay competitively. He said the VA, which came under intense criticism in 2014 for allegations of long appointment waiting lists and shoddy service at some VA centers, currently has about three dozen top leadership jobs open, including the one in St. Louis.
“We have people apply for St. Louis, then back out,” McDonald said. “Part of the issue is compensation. … Second, I think it is also the politics, which turn people off. …You don’t get the kind of scrutiny nor do you operate in a culture of transparency like we have.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has urged Republican colleagues to join in pushing harder for higher pay to attract top VA administrators.
Luetkemeyer had joined with other members of the Missouri delegation in February pressing McDonald to fill the job. McDonald told the Post-Dispatch last month that a new round of applicants for positions around the country had been received, and that he hoped to fill the position in St. Louis “soon.”
The Post-Dispatch reported last July that a finalist for the job pulled out.FacebookTwitterGoogle +