VA drops its plan to sus­pend ethics law

Yuma Sun - - NEWS -

WASHINGTON — The Depart­ment of Veter­ans Af­fairs abruptly dropped plans Wednesday to sus­pend an ethics law bar­ring em­ploy­ees from re­ceiv­ing ben­e­fits from for-profit col­leges. The move comes after crit­i­cism from gov­ern­ment watchdogs who warned of fi­nan­cial en­tan­gle­ments with pri­vate companies vy­ing for mil­lions in GI Bill tu­ition.

In a state­ment to The As­so­ci­ated Press, the VA said it had re­ceived “con­struc­tive com­ments” on the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion plan and as a re­sult would de­lay ac­tion.

As re­cently as Tues­day, the depart­ment had told AP it would im­ple­ment the rule next Mon­day, cit­ing the lack of any “sig­nif­i­cant ad­verse com­ment.” It changed its po­si­tion after it was asked about ris­ing op­po­si­tion to the plan.

“VA has sub­mit­ted pa­per­work to the Fed­eral Reg­is­ter to­day, to be pub­lished Fri­day so that the no­tice is with­drawn,” spokesman Curt Cashour said Wednesday.

The VA pub­lished the pro­posal on Sept. 13, call­ing the 50-year-old law out­dated and un­fair to VA em­ploy­ees who it said of­ten have no real con­flicts of in­ter­est. It cited as an ex­am­ple of a VA doc­tor who re­ceives pay­ment for teach­ing cour­ses as an ad­junct pro­fes­sor.

The fed­eral ethics law, passed in 1966 in the wake of sev­eral scan­dals in­volv­ing the for-profit ed­u­ca­tion in­dus­try, calls for dis­missal of any VA em­ployee who re­ceives “any wages, salary, div­i­dends, prof­its, gra­tu­ities, or ser­vices” from a for-profit school in which a veteran is also en­rolled us­ing VA GI Bill ben­e­fits.

In in­ter­views this week, veter­ans groups and ethics ex­perts said the process was rushed, be­trayed the will of Con­gress and gave for­profit col­leges an opening to im­prop­erly re­ward VA em­ploy­ees who steer veter­ans to the schools. They also chal­lenged what they said was lim­ited pub­lic­ity of the pro­posed change.

At least four ma­jor veter­ans’ or­ga­ni­za­tions — Stu­dent Veter­ans of Amer­ica, The Amer­i­can Legion, Veter­ans for For­eign Wars and Viet­nam Veter­ans of Amer­ica — urged the VA to grant waivers case by case, some­thing that agency of­fi­cials had com­plained as bur­den­some, rather than is­sue a blan­ket waiver cov­er­ing all 330,000 VA em­ploy­ees.

“It’s highly ques­tion­able,” said Richard Painter, who served as chief White House ethics lawyer for for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush.

“The VA has a great big pot of money and ev­ery ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion wants a piece of the ac­tion. And there’s no doubt for-profit col­leges have a lot of in­flu­ence in this ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

Cashour said Shulkin’s pro­posal was prompted by con­cerns fol­low­ing an in­spec­tor gen­eral’s re­port that found two em­ploy­ees had vi­o­lated the law by work­ing as ad­junct pro­fes­sors.

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