President Donald Trump claimed that his administration has fired over 1,500 Veterans Affairs (VA) employees after enacting VA reform legislation.
“Last year, Congress also passed, and I signed, the landmark VA Accountability Act. Since its passage, my administration has already removed more than 1,500 VA employees who failed to give our veterans the care they deserve – and we are hiring talented people who love our vets as much as we do,” Trump said during his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
The VA has fired about 1,700 people since Trump signed a VA reform bill into law.
The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act gave the VA more flexibility to hire and fire employees and created an office dedicated to accountability. The VA press office said that the agency has fired 1,737 people, with 1,046 regular removals and 691 probationary removals, since President Trump signed the bill into law in June 2017.
“Probationary removals take place during an employee’s probationary period. Regular removals take place outside of the probationary period. Both are permanent removals,” VA press secretary Curt Cashour told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email. New employees and new supervisors in the federal government must complete a one-year probationary period where they have fewer employment protections than other employees.
The VA fired 2,537 people in total for 2017, according to Cashour. That’s a 27 percent increase from 2016, when the VA fired 2,001 people.
The Associated Press (AP) said that Trump’s claim was “inaccurate” and the Marine Corps Times said that his figures were an “exaggeration.” They based their assessment on data posted publicly on the VA accountability website that showed that while 1,500 people were fired since Trump took office, about 500 people were fired before Trump signed the reform legislation into law. But that information did not include data provided by the VA press office on people who were removed during a probationary period.
It was difficult to fire employees caught breaking protocol or incapable of serving veterans before the VA Accountability Act was signed into law. The VA had to wait 30 days to fire an employee caught watching pornography while with a patient in March because the law required an advance notice period to fire employees who did not commit a crime. An investigation by TheDCNF revealed that the VA shuffled nearly 100 hospital administrators, many of whom they could not fire, to different hospitals over eight years.
VA reform proposals followed revelations in 2014 that more than 1,000 veterans may have died due to malpractice or lack of care after VA administrators manipulated waiting lists to hide long wait times. One Phoenix VA hospital continued to manipulate wait time data for years after the scandal.
“The department is tackling head-on issues that have lingered for years, including accountability, whistleblower protection, improving transparency and customer service for Veterans and expanding suicide prevention and mental health care services,” VA Secretary David Shulkin said in a statement about Trump’s State of the Union speech Tuesday.
The AP later updated its fact check to reflect the new data from the VA and removed its assertion that Trump’s claim was inaccurate. The Marine Corps Times also updated its story and wrote another post about the additional probationary removal figures.
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