President Donald Trump signed a bill into law Friday that will make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to weed out employees for wrongdoings.
Trump repeatedly promised during the election campaign to dismiss VA workers “who let our veterans down,” and he cast Friday’s bill signing as the fulfillment of that promise.
The new law will lower the burden of proof to fire employees, allowing for dismissal even if most evidence is in a worker’s favor.
The bill also solidifies another of Trump’s campaign promises by creating a permanent VA accountability office, by law, which Trump established by executive order in April.
The Washington Times reports:
President Trump signed a law Friday that makes it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire employees for wrongdoing and adds protections for whistleblowers in the VA.
Responding to an Obama-era scandal in which veterans died waiting for doctor’s appointments, Mr. Trump said the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 will “make sure that the scandal we suffered so recently never, ever happens again.”
“What happened was a national disgrace, and yet some of the employees involved remained on the payrolls,” Mr. Trump said. “Our veterans have fulfilled their duty to this nation, and now we must fulfill our duty to them.”
The president signed the bill into law in the East Room, at a White House ceremony attended by dozens of veterans, family members and lawmakers. Among them was retired Army Sgt. Michael Verardo of North Carolina, who lost two limbs in 2010 when he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.
Mr. Verardo said he was prepared when he enlisted for injury or death. But when he returned home, he had to wait 57 days for the VA to fix his prosthetic leg, and more than three years for the agency to modify his home so he could safely live there.
“What I was not prepared for was coming home to a broken VA system,” Mr. Verardo told the audience. “Today is a new day. This administration has fulfilled its promise that the veteran is empowered and the veteran is in charge of his or her own care.”
The law had bipartisan support in Congress but faced opposition from unions representing VA employees, who warned that the new provisions could make it easier for management to retaliate against employees for political reasons.
VA Secretary David Shulkin cited the examples of a VA employee who kept her job after three convictions for drunken driving, and another who was watching pornography while treating a patient. He said the law “is going to make it easier and quicker for us to hold our employees accountable.”
“Veterans deserve a VA they can trust and take pride in,” Mr. Shulkin said. “Employees who act contrary to our core values erode that trust.”
The president, referring to unions’ opposition, said “this was not an easy one.”
“We got it done. It’s a reform that I campaigned on, and now I am thrilled to be able to sign that promise into law,” Mr. Trump said.
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