Bill to Authorize Firing VA Senior Execs

March 05, 2014 | Terry Howell

Op-ed submitted by Lou Celli, American Legion Legislative Director

VA Secretary Shinseki should have the authority to manage his department

In 1976, 34 members of The American Legion died from pneumonia-like symptoms – and more than 200 others were stricken ill — while attending the veterans service organization’s annual convention in Pittsburgh. This newly discovered bacterium was named Legionella and its lethal effects became known as Legionnaires’ disease.

In 2011 and 2012, this deadly disease claimed the lives of five veterans and sickened 16 more; all were patients at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center in Pittsburgh.

Soon after the outbreak, we learned that the Pittsburgh VA knew about the contamination a full year before letting the public know.  At a subsequent congressional hearing, VA Secretary Eric testified before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HVAC) in Washington. When asked if he would remove the executives responsible for covering up the Legionella outbreak in Pittsburgh, and possibly contributing to the preventable deaths of veterans, Secretary Shinseki told the committee that he didn’t have the authority to remove them.

In a follow up letter to the committee, Shinseki maintained that he “didn’t think that he had the authority” to fire senior executives who could be responsible for preventable deaths at VA hospitals, or to simply remove executives who underperform.

The American Legion fully supports VA’s mission to provide the best quality of health care possible to veterans. Along with that support, the Legion also expects accountability and responsibility from VA employees – even the secretary – which is why we support a piece of legislation, H.R. 4031, introduced into the House by HVAC Chairman Jeff Miller.

This bill would give VA secretaries the authority to remove senior executives who are found to be derelict, underperforming, or not performing at all.  The American Legion recognizes that the vast majority of VA employees are hard-working, dedicated professionals, who spend day after day caring for and supporting our nation’s veterans.

We also realize that no organization is perfect, and that the leaders at the top must have the authority, resources, and freedom to effectively manage their staff, if we are to hold them accountable for the success or failure of subordinates.

Normally, The American Legion doesn’t get involved in personnel decisions of the federal government, even when it comes to VA. But in order to ensure that VA secretaries have the power to remove senior executives when necessary – such as incompetent directors who supervise hospitals in which veterans die needlessly – we support Miller’s legislation and, if enacted into law, expect its provisions to be used.


  1. This did not take place in Pittsburgh, PA, rather at the American Legion three-day convention at the Bellevue-Stafford Hotel in Philadelphia, PA. More than 2,000 Legionnaires, mostly men, attended the convention. The date and city were chosen to coincide with America’s celebration of the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence at Philadelphia in 1776.

    • Michael D. says:

      Let's say that in 1976 "this did not take place in Pittsburgh", how do you excuse away the five deaths and 16 illnesses that occured during 2011 and 2012? How about we focus on the obvious ineptitude and sheer indifference shown to our veterans, who endured severe hardships protecting our freedoms, only to end up discarded AT HOME?

      It's time that those in charge be held responsible commensurate with the office they hold. NO ONE should be above the law!!

  2. Yes, he should the Authority to remove executive from their posts. For myself he need to come to this VA and clean house. This VA do not fire staff for being verbly abusive to the veteran. They just move them and place them in another area. If you are promotable to other positions they just leave you in the position you are in and place someone that position not qualified for the position. They should send someone to each VA undercover to see why there are so many complaints.

  3. voodkokk says:

    If they can kick you out of the military then they should be able to terminate civilians.

  4. chvietvet says:

    After firing, these bums will go home to receive retirement checks amounting to $100,000 plus per year to supplement their tax-free fortunes that they hamstered away through all kinds of semi-legal and illegal methods to drain the VA budget to their own advantage. They need to be prosecuted for numerous cases of negligent homicide, fined, and sent to prison to the rest of their lives. Anything less would be gross injustice, considering how many veterans literally starved to death in the streets. President Obama, action is required!

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