President Trump on Thursday signed an executive order creating an office of accountability and whistle-blower protection at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The order establishes a specific office that will identify barriers preventing the VA from firing employees who are not performing. The office will report directly to VA Secretary David Shulkin in order to speed up that process.
“This executive order makes it clear that we will never ever tolerate substandard care for our great veterans. With the creation of this office, we are sending a strong message: Those that fail our veterans will be held, for the first time, accountable,” Trump said at a press conference.
“At the same time, we will reward and retain the many VA employees that do a fantastic job, of which we have many. And I will tell you, some of the doctors in the VA — I’ve heard it from so many people — they’re the finest in the world; these are great, great people,” he added.
Trump also said whistle-blowers would be protected. The VA was rocked by scandal in 2014 when CNN and other media outlets revealed that VA employees were trying to hide long wait times for first appointments, and that some veterans may have died waiting for care.
“We have to get our vets to those doctors, but we have some of the finest doctors in the world. We have also had some of the most honest employees and some of them expose wrongdoing, and we’ll make sure that they’re protected,” Trump said.
Trump said he was also calling on the Senate to pass legislation to give Shulkin the authority he needs to ensure all VA employees are “held accountable for how they treat veterans.”
American Veterans (AMVETS), a veteran service organization, praised the executive order. AMVETS said in a statement:
AMVETS is fully supportive of POTUS signing an order allowing the formation of an office that will terminate irrelevant VA employees, create a sense of increased accountability, and also protect those who report on changes that need to be made in the organization. This is another step forward in bridging trust between the VA and our veterans.
Trump also pointed to other accomplishments within the administration’s first 100 days.
He said the administration has imposed new standards of accountability and transparency, including a new website that publishes wait time at every VA hospital. He said it has also implemented same-day mental health services at all 168 VA medical centers so veterans in crisis can find help without delay.
He also pointed to his signing of the Veterans Choice Improvement Act:
Very proud of that — so that more veterans can see the doctor of their choice and don’t have to travel long distances or wait forever for V.A. care,” he said. “They were waiting in lines for seven days, eight days, nine days, and two weeks. Some instances were horrible. They were waiting so long. They had a very curable problem and they die before they got to see the doctor. It’s not going to happen any longer.
He said already this year, the CHOICE program has received 42 percent more approvals to see doctors of their choosing.
And he said, “That’s just the very beginning of what we have planned. So much more is coming.”
“Our veterans have secured this nation with their blood, sweat and tears, and we will not let them down. These are our great, great people. We will always stand with those that stood for freedom and who stood for us. They have protected us. They have made it all possible. Now we’re going to protect and take care of them,” he said.