Rice, Aumua Amata Introduce Bipartisan Bills to Reform VA Police and Increase Oversight at the
WASHINGTON – U.S. Representatives Kathleen Rice (NY-04) and Aumua Amata Radewagen (American Samoa) today introduced two bipartisan bills to strengthen oversight and accountability at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA): the VA Police Improvement and Accountability Act, which would require the VA police to implement the use of body cameras, address police staffing needs at VA facilities, and improve transparency for the law enforcement operations of the Department; and the Strengthening Oversight for Veterans Act, which would provide the VA Office of Inspector General with stronger mechanisms to detect and investigate waste, fraud, and abuse at the VA.
“Inadequate policing procedures and a lack of true oversight are two pressing issues at the VA,” said Rep. Kathleen Rice. “It is wrong that veterans have been mistreated by the police force that is tasked with protecting them. And giving the VA Office of Inspector General the testimonial subpoena authority needed to conduct complete and thorough investigations is critical. I thank my colleague, Congresswoman Aumua Amata, for joining me to introduce bipartisan legislation to address these issues. Our veterans deserve nothing less than full transparency and accountability from the agency that serves them.”
“Our country has a lasting commitment to our Veterans, and that requires oversight, accountability and transparency,” said Rep. Amata. “These two bills focus on responsibility, ensuring that funding is properly used to provide services, and better equipping VA police in their duties while making data and answers more available. I appreciate Rep. Rice and her leadership on these legislative priorities that put Veterans first.”
The VA Police Improvement and Accountability Act seeks to reform several shortcomings regarding current VA police policies and procedures that were exposed in a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on June 11, 2019, which was held following an incident where a veteran was mistreated and injured by VA police at the Northport VA Medical Center on Long Island. Specifically, the bill would:
· Improve transparency and accountability by requiring VA Police points of contact at individual facilities and providing public information regarding arrests, use of force, and other key metrics.
· Strengthen oversight of the police force by requiring VA to implement department-wide data systems to track and analyze police activity and improve data and reporting on police incidents at VA facilities.
· Require the VA to develop a plan on police staffing that establishes minimum standards for staffing at each VA facility, and requires VA to submit a report to Congress with respect to staffing needs of the police force following implementation.
· Require the use of body cameras for VA police officers, and the development of best practices to ensure that the use of body cameras is consistent with upholding civil rights and privacy of patients and employees.
The Strengthening Oversight for Veterans Act would provide the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) with testimonial subpoena authority. Without testimonial subpoena authority, the current ability of VA OIG to conduct complete and thorough investigations is severely limited. The bill would allow the OIG to subpoena testimony from former VA employees, former contractor personnel, and other potentially relevant individuals during VA OIG investigations. Granting VA OIG with this new authority will better protect America’s veterans by ensuring the VA is operating effectively, efficiently, and in their best interest.