One of Donald Trump’s key campaign promises during the 2016 election was to improve the treatment and healthcare of America’s veterans, vowing to reorganize the Department of Veterans Affairs to prevent the failures it has incurred in the past, particularly under the Obama administration.
Back in April, President Trump issued an executive order to hold employees at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs accountable for failing to provide adequate care to veterans or uphold the values of their job. Within the order there was also a section protecting whistleblowers in the VA who choose to come forward regarding issues within their departments.
At a ceremony at VA headquarters, Trump, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, said the order would create an Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection within the VA whose head would report directly to new VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin.
“We’re going to protect the people who are protecting us,” said Trump, who made VA reform one of the major issues in his campaign for the White House.
“We’re not going to let them down,” the president said.
The order “makes it clear that we will never ever tolerate substandard care for our great veterans,” he said but acknowledged that Congress must pass legislation to back up the order and give Shulkin the authority to bypass the due process of existing civil service rules and go beyond simply identifying wrongdoers.
During this event, Trump noted that he is taking steps to prevent the scandals that happened under Obama’s watch, mentioning the infamous 3-year-waiting time incident at a VA in Phoenix, which was said to have led to the death of up to 40 veterans who died waiting for care. In fact, a report in 2015 stated that as many as 307,000 veterans may have died while waiting for VA health care to treat them
The VA has removed 526 employees since Jan. 20, according to the accountability report released on Friday. Agency officials have demoted another 27 employees and temporarily suspended an additional 194 employees for longer than two weeks. The list does not include the employees’ names but shows their positions.
“In addition to posting the adverse action information, Secretary Shulkin announced that he is requiring approval by a senior official of any monetary settlement with an employee over the amount of $5,000,” the VA noted Friday. “Any settlement above this amount will require the personal approval of the undersecretary, assistant secretary or equivalent senior-level official within the organization in which the dispute occurs.”
Shulkin highlighted the new disclosure policy as part of his efforts to change the “culture” at the VA.
Shulkin’s predecessor, Robert McDonald, was criticized for misrepresenting the number of VA employees fired for their involvement in covering up long delays in healthcare at VA hospitals.
McDonald was caught obscuring the number of VA employees disciplined for misconduct on several occasions as his agency suffered scrutiny of the perceived lack of accountability for its employees.
As with most government agencies, corruption and incompetence has run rampant over the years in the VA. Even when a scandal becomes public, few managers are ever held accountable and, at worst, they are quietly transferred to a different department. The culture of apathy in these agencies spreads like a cancer, and even if managers with good intentions are hired into the system, their hands are quickly tied or they are forced to adapt to the existing culture in an effort to keep their job.
It appears that culture has come to an end, as President Trump’s VA Secretary David Shulkin has been busy removing the lingering incompetence from an organization that is vital in serving the men and women who served America.
The full report including the positions of each person removed from their position at the VA can be viewed in PDF format below.