Problems have plagued the Department of Veterans Affairs for years now, and for all that time it seemed like no improvement was forthcoming. During the Obama years, scandals rocked the VA almost constantly, including countless scandals in which the lives of veterans were put in danger so that faceless bureaucrats at the VA could protect their bonuses.
However, President Trump, with the tenacity and tact of a practiced businessman, not only identified the problem, but pushed for the passage of legislation (which he signed) to make it easier to fire these entrenched bureaucrats when they fail the United States’ veterans. Despite what government unions might want to say, this can only have a positive impact on the experiences that veterans have with the VA.
While President Donald Trump has scored a number of real legislative wins in his first year as President of the United States, one of his proudest moments was in June, when he signed the Veteran Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. This legislation made it simpler to fire bureaucrats employed by the VA, essentially, and is one of the most significant reforms to federal services in decades.
The change in rate of firing bad employees from the VA has been noticeable. During the period from February to the end of July, 566 VA workers were fired, averaging out to around 94 a month. After the rules went into effect at the end of July, however, from August until the middle of December, the VA fired 756 employees, or about 168 a month, fired.
The purpose of the law is a simple and obvious one; restoring the concept of accountability to the VA. During the Obama years, it became obvious to VA employees that they couldn’t be fired, even if they did things that resulted in the deaths of patients (like, say, manipulating schedules to make it seem like veterans were getting appointments in a timely manner instead of waiting months for them).
The result of this lack of accountability is that employees during the Obama years, who knew that they basically could not be fired, did as they wished. The VA spent millions on artwork, for example, including buying pieces for a facility that was mostly utilized by blind veterans.
Though the law is helping to root out the inefficiency and corruption in the VA, that task will not be completed overnight. For example, recently a VA clinic in Roseburg, Oregon was found to be triaging patients, treating the less-sickly veterans and denying treatment to those most in need.
This scam, as with so many VA scams, was perpetrated so that the employees could maintain bonuses. In this case, the personnel at the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center (RVAMC) were denying possible ‘problem’ patients medical treatment so that they could artificially boost their numbers and treatment outcomes and preserve performance-related bonuses.
The VA also managed to escape most oversight and scrutiny during the Obama years, aided and abetted by Bernie Sanders, who was the head of the VA subcommittee in the Senate. Sanders rejected bipartisan calls to review VA records repeatedly, and only gave in and did his job as head of the subcommittee when scandal broke in the news and he could no longer ignore the failings of the VA.
While the law signed by Trump is working to remove the dead weight and rot from the VA, that does not necessarily mean that everyone is excited about it. Marilyn Park, a representative for the American Federation of Government Employees, complained that she doesn’t “think this has accomplished what they want it to accomplish.”
The American Federation of Government Employees, also known as the AFGE, is part of the problem at the VA (and in government in general). The AFGE has been claiming that firing bad employees will not improve the situation at the VA. On the other hand, the AFGE is also one of the organizations that worked hardest to ensure that VA employees were almost impossible to fire before the passage of this law.
The AFGE also complains that the firings appear to focus mostly on lower-level employees, even though this is a silly complaint to make in any organization. There are far fewer managers, directors, and executives than lower-level employees; of course there will be more lower-level employees fired in the vast majority of situations.
Still, six months since the passage of the bill, the Donald Trump administration has just begun to work on changing the culture of the VA. Hopefully the President will continue to gut the problem employees from the VA to make sure that it focuses on what is important; providing services to veterans.