(KSLA) - U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, of Louisiana, said Thursday that reforming veterans' care is a top priority for lawmakers when they return in June.
"We spend hours, days here on Capitol Hill talking about immigration. And that's an important subject; don't misunderstand me.
"But the truth is we owe people who are in our country illegally nothing," he said.
"We owe our veterans everything, and our veterans are getting the short end of the stick."
Kennedy and fellow Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, and more than a dozen other senators have sponsored legislation to increase accountability within the Veterans Affairs Department and to protect its whistleblowers.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act unanimously was passed out of committee Wednesday.
"This bill will give protection to a whistleblower," Kennedy said.
"If you work for the VA and you see our veterans not getting the services and the products that taxpayers want them to get, or you see somebody misbehaving, not doing their job at the VA, turn them in and you will be protected."
The bipartisan legislation would also provide the VA secretary with stronger measures to discipline and hold bad employees accountable.
"If some employee of the VA is not doing his or her job, fire 'em, fire 'em," said Kennedy, "I know that's a strange concept in government, but that's the way the real world works in the private sector.
"Now we have some great employees at the VA, both here in Washington and throughout our country. I'm not talking about them. I'm talking about the ones who are not doing their job; they're not being fired."
The VA has been plagued with numerous scandals in recent years, most notably the manipulation of waiting lists for veterans.
"The people responsible for the wait time at the VA, those folks ought to hide their head in the sand. And then after they do that, they ought to be fired," Kennedy said.
"It's inexcusable. There is no excuse for it, it's indefensible, it's horrible and we're going to try to change that."
The legislation next moves to the Senate for a vote on final passage.