Published: Sun, April 30, 2017
Economy | By Melissa Porter

Trump creates accountability office at VA

Trump creates accountability office at VA

President Trump is creating an office at the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve accountability and protect whistle-blowers.

Before signing the order at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Trump said the new office will help provide veterans with the "health care they need and the health care they deserve".

Shulkin, who served in the Obama-era VA before being named department secretary by Trump, has been particularly bullish on increasing agency firing authority over VA employees, many of whom are unionized. VA Secretary David Shulkin said the office will help identify "barriers" that make it hard for the department to fire or reassign bad managers or employees. Why those failures occurred and whether anyone will be held accountable ought to be addressed as the inspector general's office finishes its work and VA officials and Congress conduct their own reviews.

The office is similar to one proposed by Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson, who leads the Senate VA Committee, in bipartisan legislation a year ago.

Trump signed an executive order creating the office during a visit Thursday to the VA. A Choice program meant to reduce wait times by giving veterans more access to the private sector has suffered long delays of its own, while the VA has suffered staff shortages that have worsened a backlog of disability claims.

"He's asking through his executive order for VA to do everything that it can internally", Shulkin said at a White House briefing on Wednesday.

Shulkin said that will include recommending new legislation governing department employment rules, and better enforcement of existing ones. When a Houston VA medical center employee was caught watching porn at work last month, and his bosses couldn't fire him for 30 days under civil service rules, the department took the extraordinary step of using the employee's case as ammunition for policy changes in a press release.

"We are not going to let them down", Trump said, arguing that the order "makes it clear that we will never tolerate substandard care for our great veterans" and ensure that those who report problems at the veterans affairs are protected.

"We're going to help and we're going to make this so good".

Most of the major veterans organizations have endorsed the effort, according to the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

Meanwhile, veterans' groups want the Senate to act soon to send the accountability legislation to Trump for his signature.

Shulkin insists he's made accountability a top priority and legislation would help.

Name SearchWatch Service' Mark Lucas, executive director of Concerned Veterans for America.

Trump did not say what the new office would cost, but Shulkin said the price tag is likely to be substantial.

Among those who stood with the President as he signed the bill was the whistleblower himself, Brandon Coleman.

Tom Lutey, of The Billings Gazette, contributed reporting.

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