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Trump Signs Bill to Fire Failing VA Employees, Protect Whistleblowers

Trump Signs VA Act
Chip Somodevilla/Getty

President Donald Trump, in a room filled with veterans and veterans advocates, signed a law that will give the Veterans Affairs secretary more power to remove failing employees and protect whistleblowers.

“Our veterans have fulfilled their duty to this nation and now we must fulfill our duty to them,” Trump said at the signing, held in the ornate East Room of the White House.

Trump hailed the bill as one of the largest reforms in the VA’s history, and in keeping his promise to veterans.

“VA accountability is important to make sure our veterans get the respect that they’ve earned,” he said.

The signing of the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 follows an executive order the president issued in April to create an office dedicated to removing failing VA employees and protect whistleblowers.

“We’re here to celebrate an important step towards fixing the VA,” said VA Secretary David Shulkin, who opened the bill signing ceremony with remarks.

Shulkin introduced U.S. Army veteran Sgt. Michael Verardo, who was injured by an improvised explosive device (IED) while serving in Afghanistan in 2010 with the 82nd Airborne.

Verardo lost two limbs, needed 110 surgeries and years of therapy, but the VA was failing him, Shulkin said. He had to wait more than 100 days to get his prosthetic leg fixed, he said.

“I’m pleased to say he’s waiting no longer,” Shulkin said. “Veterans like Michael is the reason the VA exists.”

Verardo, who was present at the bill signing ceremony with his wife Sarah, said he once had to take a three-hour round trip just so the VA could check whether he still had his combat injuries.

“Today is a new day,” Verardo said. “This administration has filled its promise that the veteran is in power and in charge of his own care.”

Also present were lawmakers who sponsored the bill, including Rep. Phil Roe (R-MD).

Spotted in the room were veteran advocates from the major veteran service organizations, including American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Wounded Warrior Project, Got Your 6, and Concerned Veterans of America. They filled up 11 rows of seats, compared to five rows for journalists.

Marcus Luttrell, former Navy SEAL whose experience in Afghanistan was documented in his book and movie author of Lone Survivor, was also there.

Shulkin said the bill would make it easier and quicker to hold employees accountable and dramatically reduce the time it would take to put strong leaders in important positions.

He also noted horror stories of VA employees with three driving-under-the influence (DUIs) convictions, and surfing pornography online while treating veterans.

“Employees who act contrary to our values erode that trust,” he said.

Shulkin, who served as VA under secretary for health under the Obama administration but was appointed VA Secretary by Trump, said in the past the VA would be forced to take back employees who deviated from the VA’s values.

“We are not going to achieve any reforms in the VA if we don’t get the right reforms in place,” he said.

Trump also praised his VA Secretary, David Shulkin, who also served in the Obama administration.

Trump pointed to his head, “He serves with this, and with his heart.”

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