Americans were made aware of a terrible national disgrace in 2014, when a VA medical clinic in Phoenix, AZ was shown to have kept veterans waiting for months to receive medical care. As many as 40 vets died as a result of the delays, and officials found that VA supervisors were using a variety of shady, illegal schemes to cover up the shameful situation. In the aftermath, President Obama did little to rectify the problem, and very few VA officials were ever seriously disciplined – much less fired – for their role in the tragedy.
On Thursday, President Trump took what he deemed a “bold step forward” for veterans by creating the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection through executive order. The new office will, according to the president, prove that his administration “will never, ever tolerate substandard care for our great veterans.”
“With the creation of this office, we are sending a strong message: Those who fail our veterans will be held, for the first time, accountable,” Trump said. “And at the same time, we will reward and retain the many VA employees who do a fantastic job, of which we have many.”
The order is the second major action Trump has taken on the Veterans Administration in as many weeks; only days before, the president signed a bill extending and expanding a choice program that allows some vets to seek medical care at a private clinic instead of driving hundreds of miles to the nearest VA hospital.
According to VA Director David Shulkin, however, there is only so much that President Trump can do from the Oval Office. If there is to be serious reform within the Veterans Administration, he said, it would have to come from Capitol Hill.
“He’s asking through his executive order for VA to do everything that it can internally,” Shulkin said. “But we know that that’s not going to be enough to get done what I want to get done, which is to be able to, once we identify people that need to leave the organization, to get them out quickly. So I do need legislative help as well.”
As a result of the new office, the VA will have officials in place who can identify wrongdoing and recommend disciplinary action when it is required. However, due to the neverending entanglement of government unions, VA employees can be difficult to fire without a lengthy and arduous process, as seen under the Obama administration. To that end, Trump and Shulkin are calling on the Senate to pass a pending bill that would make it easier for the VA to fire poor-performing employees.
Providing serious care for our badly-mistreated American heroes was a central rallying point in Trump’s campaign, and it appears that he is rapidly living up to his promises. Finally, we can begin turning the page on one of our nation’s darkest shames.