U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson told veterans in Macon on Friday that pending legislation would put more teeth into efforts to hold Department of Veterans Affairs executives accountable for misdeeds.
Isakson, a Georgia Republican, also slammed a decision by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch related to a lawsuit by an executive accused in the Phoenix VA waiting-list scandal. Sharon Helman, the former director of Phoenix VA hospitals, is suing to get her job back.
Helman says provisions of the Veterans Choice Act making it easier to fire VA executives are unconstitutional. Lynch announced Tuesday she will not dispute that claim. Isakson blasted that decision while speaking to a statewide VFW convention at the Macon Marriott City Center.
Helman was convicted of felony criminal misconduct in office. Critics have said Lynch’s decision could allow Helman to get her job back.
“It will be over my dead body,” Isakson said.
He called on President Barack Obama, who signed the legislation into law, to reverse Lynch’s decision and defend the law.
“You should not have an attorney general to take the unilateral position that ‘I’m not going to enforce certain parts of the law,’” Isakson said.
Isakson said the Veterans First Act will reinforce the ability of the VA secretary to fire top executives.
“We are going to make sure there is no way to get around that, so they have to be held accountable,” he said in a news conference after the speech.
Isakson is chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. He said every member of the committee is a co-sponsor of the Veterans First Act, and he expects it will win easy passage in the full Senate.
The House has a similar bill pending, he said, and the two will merge once both are passed.
Isakson said overall he thinks the VA is doing a good job, and he mainly takes issue with the level of accountability and with wait times to get VA benefits. He said he opposes privatization of the VA hospital system, which drew applause from the audience of about 150.
After his talk, Savannah veteran Michael Wells said he liked what Isakson had to say.
“I thought his speech was very, very good, and I’m glad we have someone in Congress who is devoted to veterans,” Wells said.
He said he goes to the VA hospital in Savannah and is “very, very proud of the team of doctors that I have.”
George Maust, a veteran from Marietta, said he has seen improvement in the VA in the past few years.
“It’s like any government organization,” he said. “It’s slow.”