President Donald Trump has relieved over 8,000 Veterans Affairs employees for failing their duty since becoming the president, according to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.
“The standard is if you don’t live up to your oath if you don’t live up to the standards that our veterans expect, that you will be asked to leave,” Wilkie told reporters in a press conference on Friday. “This is a transformational moment in our history.”
Wilkie said accountability was a signature promise from President Trump, particularly after the Veterans Affairs scandals in Phoenix in 2014 and 2015.
Under Trump, he said, VA employees as high as network directors down to the lowest employees were removed for not performing their job to the proper standards.
“This is, I think, one of the strongest statements that we can make: That it is a new day at VA,” Wilkie said.
Trump spoke about the importance of Veterans Affairs accountability in October, during a speech on health care at The Villages in Florida.
“Do you remember all of the bad stories that used to be about the VA?” he asked. “Now you don’t see that because they have accountability. We can fire bad people. We fired a tremendous number of really bad people that should’ve been fired years ago. I don’t like firing people, but I like firing people that don’t treat our vets great, that aren’t doing their job.”
Wilkie praised Trump for delivering the largest budget for the VA Department in its history and noted that the department in 2018 achieved the highest patient satisfaction rates in its history at 89.7 percent.
He also touted the success of the MISSION Act, allowing veterans the ability to have the choice to seek care in the private sector when Veterans Affairs could not give them the care that they needed.
“This puts veterans at the center of their healthcare decisions, not the institutional prerogatives of VA, but veterans,” he said.
Wilkie detailed a forthcoming national roadmap for understanding and preventing suicides and addiction, and mental health, bringing together the federal government including the Departments of Indian Health, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Department of the Defense.
He said 60 percent of veterans who committed suicide were not in Veterans Affairs care and that the roadmap would help the department was working with local organizations to find military veterans suffering from depression.
President Trump fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin in 2018 and replaced him with Wilkie, who was recommended to the Department by then-Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.
Wilkie said it was an “honor” to serve in President Trump’s administration, praising him for putting veterans’ care at the top of his priority list.
“There has never been a President who has given this much attention to America’s veterans or allowed for more transformation to go on in the lives of veterans in this department than this President has,” he said.