Republican Sens. Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley hinted Friday that President-elect Donald Trump should choose new leadership for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
According to Johnson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and Grassley, chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, the VA is in bad shape. It’s in desperate need of improvement to fix issues like constant whistleblower retaliation, veteran suicide, overprescription of opioids and poor care.
Although in the letter sent to Vice President-elect Mike Pence Johnson and Grassley neither explicitly call for a new secretary, nor name any favored candidate, they mention twice they are hoping for new leadership, both in the context of getting veterans proper care.
“We are hopeful that under new leadership, the VA can embrace these principles to ensure that our nation’s veterans receive the care they deserve,” Johnson and Grassley wrote.
Moreover, what also irritates them is the VA’s refusal to properly implement the Choice Program forwarded by Congress, which was designed specifically to allow veterans access to private care when the VA fails to come through. The legislation permits a veteran to get help from a private provider if the VA doesn’t schedule an appointment in 30 days, or if the veteran is too far away from a facility.
The legislation gave the secretary of the VA the authority to remove senior executives for poor performance or misconduct. Nevertheless, that authority has only been used to fire six executives. One of those executives was handed an $88,000 payment when he was kicked out of the VA.
While the VA often rewards executives and employees for poor performance and avoids firing them seemingly at all cost, whistleblowers who expose problems at facilities across the country are directly targeted and run out.
The letter gives the example of Brandon Coleman, who showed that the Phoenix VA wasn’t properly caring for suicidal veterans. These veterans were allowed to walk out of the hospital untreated. For his efforts, Coleman was placed on administrative leave for 460 days and retaliated against, a finding confirmed by the Office of Special Counsel, the federal whistleblower protection agency.
Johnson and Grassley’s hint for a new secretary of the VA comes in opposition to numerous veteran-related groups that have called for Trump to keep VA Secretary Robert McDonald in power so he can continue the reforms he has already initiated.
Three candidates under consideration are Pete Hegseth, former CEO of Concerned Veterans of America, former GOP Sen. Scott Brown, and Navy Adm. Michelle Howard.
“We look forward to working with the new Administration to enact meaningful reforms that improve veteran care, expand veteran choice, hold all VA employees accountable, and enhance whistleblower protections,” the senators stated.
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