President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday establishing an office to help get rid of bad employees and protect whistleblowers at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Trump visited the VA offices Thursday and thanked veterans for their service, in addition to thanking employees who help veterans, while signing the executive order called “Improving Accountability and Whistleblower Protection at the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
“I’m honored also to be at the Department of Veterans Affairs because I will tell you this has been something right from the beginning of the campaign that does not get any more important for me than making life really great for our phenomenal veterans, that I can say,” Trump said.
“This executive order makes it clear that we will never ever tolerate substandard care for our great veterans,” he added.
“This is an important moment in the life of the VA,” Vice President Mike Pence said.
Brandon Coleman, a noted Phoenix VA whistleblower, was one of the veterans in attendance at the signing.
The new office is distinct from the existing Office of Accountability Review, as the OAR only deals with senior employees, while in comparison, the new office is designed to examine any barriers that prevent bad employees from being fired and also to protect whistleblowers from suffering retaliation for disclosures.
The executive of this new office will report directly to VA Secretary David Shulkin.
“We want make sure that we have employees who work hard and are committed to the mission of serving our Veterans,” Shulkin said Thursday.
Shulkin confirmed in a call with reporters Wednesday evening that while the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection will cost a substantial amount, it represents Trump’s strong commitment to bringing accountability to bear at the department. He also noted on the call that in order to truly bring reform to the department, he needs Congress to pass accountability legislation.
The office will be established within 45 days from Thursday.
Whistleblowers, however, were skeptical about whether the new office would actually accomplish much.
“My concern is in regards to the individuals that will make up this office,” Germaine Clarno, a whistleblower from the Hines VA in Illinois, told USA Today. “My fear is that it will be the same bureaucrats that got us into this mess.”
“I doubt the presidential order will curb the abuse happening at the Phoenix VA or any other VA,” Rodriguez told USA Today.
Got Your 6, a veterans’ organization, praised the executive order as a step forward in reforming the VA, which is the second largest department in the federal government.
“During this first 100 day period — and even during the transition— the President and his White House and VA teams have demonstrated their commitment to bringing together all voices of the veteran and military family communities to address our common challenges,” Bill Rausch, Got Your 6 executive director, said in a statement. “Increasing accountability at VA is certainly one of those shared goals, and Got Your 6 believes this Executive Order will provide Secretary Shulkin vital tools to support his efforts to reform the second largest department within the federal government.”
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