On Sunday, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald appeared on NBC to defend his recent track record of holding the VA accountable. According to McDonald, from the start of his tenure as secretary, 900 employees have been fired.
After an embarrassing incident earlier in the week in which he lost his cool at a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing, McDonald told Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” that he’s made fundamental and drastic changes to core VA leadership. (RELATED: VA Secretary Under Fire After Losing His Cool In Congress)
“We’ve got 60 people that we fired who have manipulated wait times,” McDonald stated. “We’ve got about 100 senior leaders who are under investigation now whose performance reviews have been deferred until we get feedback from the IG and Department of Justice. So we’re holding people accountable.”
However, the numbers cited by McDonald are not without dispute, and it turns out, firing 900 employees might not be all that impressive. “Regarding 900 firings: That’s less than the pace of VA firings under former secretary Shinseki, according to OPM data which shows that 4,300 VA employees were removed or terminated from federal service over two years under Shinseki,” an unnamed Congressional staffer told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
As for the number of employees fired for wait time manipulation, the report that the VA provides to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on a weekly basis indicates that, as of February 5, “only 8 people have been fired for actions related to patient scheduling, record manipulation, appointment delays and/or patient deaths. The 8 are part of a total of only 69 proposed or completed disciplinary actions. The report VA provides the committee also includes an additional three senior executives who have been removed, although none of those cases had to do with wait times or patient scheduling,” the Congressional staffer continued.
In the interview, Todd also didn’t let McDonald off the hook without playing the tape of his confrontation earlier this week with Republican Rep. Mike Coffman from Colorado. McDonald lashed out with a personal attack at Coffman, saying, “I’ve run a large company, sir. What have you done?” In response, McDonald said that everyone in the room at the hearing had seen a change in the VA. For McDonald, part of the reason for change is due to employing the same business practices he used during his time as CEO at Proctor & Gamble and applying them to the VA.
Dan Caldwell, legislative and political director for Concerned Veterans for America, penned an op-ed on Sunday in The Blaze, arguing that Coffman had every right to be frustrated, especially because of the $1 billion dollar hospital in his home state of Colorado which remains unfinished and scandal-ridden.
According to Caldwell, McDonald is trying to roll back promising VA reforms like the Veteran Choice Card in favor of the single-payer health care system. The idea of the card is that veterans who have waited longer than 30 days for an appointment will be allowed to see a private doctor instead.
McDonald has previously pointed to the fact that only 27,000 veterans have made appointments using the card since the program started in November as evidence of its ineffectiveness, but advocates have responded by saying that veterans need more time for trust to build. The reason? In past cases, upon authorization for private care from the VA, veterans have had to wait months and sometimes years to receive reimbursement.
And importantly, McDonald has modified the firing process to allow for an additional notification period, meaning that many in the VA have been able to simply resign or retire without facing real accountability.
Since taking over after former Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned in 2014, McDonald has faced tremendous opposition from veterans’ organizations, the public and especially Congress, but on Sunday, he reaffirmed the need to reform the VA and to advance efforts in Los Angeles to end veteran homelessness not only in the city, but in the rest of the country by the end of 2015.
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