President Donald Trump is set to issue an executive order this week that will create an office within the VA that is tasked with disciplining or firing incompetent employees.
Trump, who made improving veterans' care a prominent issue as he campaigned for office, was to issue the order while visiting the VA. It will create a new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection in the department. "At the same time we will reward and retain the many VA employees who do a fantastic job, of which we have many".
Trump's short trip across Lafayette Park from the White House to VA headquarters in Washington is created to follow his campaign promises to clean up the embattled department, which lawmakers have criticized in recent years for being slow to respond to incompetence or criminal behavior. "We, of course, were very concerned when we saw the reports and saw the video and it is not acceptable for us to treat our veterans but the most respect", Shulkin said. "We're actually proactively reaching out to those veterans at highest risk of suicide", he said.
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"This executive order makes it clear that we will never ever tolerate substandard care for our great veterans", Trump said.
"We're going to help and we're going to make this so good".
VA Secretary David Shulkin also told the crowd his agency is making improvements.
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The new order also helps protect the rights of whistle-blowers, like the one who helped uncover the VA scandal in 2014 when as many as 40 veterans died while waiting months for appointments at the VA's medical center in Phoenix.
Within the next 100 days, Shulkin said veterans can expect to see even more for this suicide prevention initiative, which is called "Getting to Zero". The House of Representatives has already passed similar legislation. The office "will investigate allegations of misconduct - including retaliation against whistle-blowing employees who reported abuses - and seek to identify systemic barriers that have previously hindered the agencies' top leaders from more adequately addressing such problems in the past, including with disciplinary action", USA Today reported after VA Secretary David Shulkin address reporters on April 26. Existing VA employees will be transferred there, despite department-wide employee shortages and a decision to leave thousands of VA positions unfilled. Shulkin separately said he didn't have dollar figures for how much the new VA accountability office would cost, but said it will require a "substantial commitment". It also has been ordered to stand up a central whistleblower office.
Coleman said real VA whistleblowers are being considered to be a part of the new office.
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Tom Lutey, of The Billings Gazette, contributed reporting.