With strong bipartisan support from both houses of Congress, President Donald Trump on Friday signed into law a plan to make it easier for the Veterans Affairs Department to get rid of employees for poor performance or misconduct, all in an effort to improve veterans health care and other services.
"We're taking care of our veterans and we're taking care of them properly," said the President, as he signed the bill at a White House ceremony.
"Those entrusted with the sacred duty of serving our veterans will be held accountable for the care they provide," Mr. Trump said.
New legislation was needed from Congress mainly because previous efforts to make it easier to fire employees at the VA had become bogged down in the courts, even preventing the VA from getting rid of people like the former head of the Phoenix VA health care director, where a health care scandal broke out in 2014.
"We won't be able to accomplish any of the reforms we need to in the VA if we don't get the right people in place," said VA Secretary David Shulkin, who with the support of the President, has pressed ahead with internal changes.
Shulkin said this new law would "make it easier and quicker to hold our employees accountable."
Among the changes in the bill:
+ A streamlined VA process to fire, suspend or demote workers for misconduct or poor performance
+ The Secretary would have the power to reduce the pension of a VA worker if that person is convicted of a felony crime that influenced their job performance
+ The VA would be allowed to claw back bonuses given to employees who are later found to have engaged in misconduct
The new law also includes provisions to protect whistleblowers from retaliation inside the VA, and gives greater authority to the VA Secretary to fill top positions more quickly inside the VA health care system.
"As you all know - all too well - for many years, the government failed to keep its promises to our veterans," Mr. Trump said, saying "we are just getting started" on major changes to the VA, one of his central campaign promises in 2016.