Supporting Our Veterans: President Trump Signs VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act
By Neil A. Carousso
President Donald J. Trump signed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 on Friday morning in The White House East Room. It’s a long-overdue promise kept by a Commander-In-Chief who truly has the heart and respect for all those who serve bravely and proudly so that we, U.S. citizens can enjoy the benefits of freedom.
The law repairs the Department of Veterans Affairs government agency that provides health care and other services to millions of U.S. veterans. The bill was prompted by a scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center where some veterans died waiting for care while on secret wait lists and some were prescribed the wrong medications.
A VA accountability measure passed the House in 2014 but it met its fate in the Senate while former-President Barack Obama threatened to veto the bill if it went to his desk, siding with the unions that represent VA employees.
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) June 23, 2017
Pete Hegseth, a U.S. Army veteran and co-host of Fox News Channel’s top-rated morning show “Fox & Friends,” collaborated on the VA accountability bill over several years to ensure veterans receive the care they deserve without lengthy weight times and poor health care caused by government bureaucracy.
What’s In the Law:
The legislation would cut the 30-day advance notice to 10 days. It advances the appeals process that employees use to appeal any disciplinary action against them. It also reduces the evidentiary standards required to terminate an employee and it allows the VA secretary to recoup bonuses and relocation expenses in certain situations.
“Under the current disciplinary process, it takes an average 51 days to remove an employee, largely due to a 30-day notice period,” said VA Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin.
It also allows the VA secretary to directly appoint directors to lead VA hospitals and integrated service networks, instead of going through lengthy hiring processes. There are approximately 350,000 employees in the Department of Veterans Affairs.
True to the law’s name, it will give protection to employees who disclose poor practices and criminal activity at VA hospitals.
On March 30, Fox News reported on retaliation at the Missouri VA in which Dr. Dale Klein was punished for speaking out about long wait times at the VA hospital. Dr. Klein, a highly rated pain management specialist at the Southeast Missouri John J. Pershing VA, is being paid $250,000 a year to sit in his office and do nothing. The government prevented him from seeing veteran patients in need after serving our country because the doctor revealed sinful practices at the Missouri VA.
Stars and Stripes published a story on June 21 about U.S. Army Veteran Mike Verardo who lost a leg and an arm in an IED blast in Afghanistan in 2010. After receiving treatment at military hospitals, which included over 100 surgeries, he returned home in 2013, but “waited 57 days for his prosthetic to be repaired, with no backup, and even longer for a neurological appointment.”
Sergeant Verardo and his wife, Sarah, were present for Friday’s signing at The White House and was introduced by Secretary Shulkin. Verardo shared his emotional story at the East Room podium and thanked President Trump for his leadership in listening and acting on veterans’ needs. Verardo criticized the Obama Administration for turning a blind eye to soldiers who returned to the U.S.
President Trump gave Mr. Verardo the pen he used to sign the bill into law.
The Verardos sat in Mr. Trump’s VIP box with the Trump family during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last July. The New York Times featured Verardo in a story about vets who supported Trump for president.
The Verardos also stood beside Trump at The White House in April when the Commander-In-Chief signed an executive order creating a new office at the VA to find and remove incompetent and immoral workers.
Alarming Veterans Statistics:
In 2013, the Department of Veterans Affairs released a study that covered suicides from 1999 to 2010, which showed that roughly 22 veterans were dying by suicide per day, or one every 65 minutes. Some sources suggest that this rate may be undercounting suicides.
In 2014, an average of 20 veterans died from suicide each day. 6 of the 20 were users of VA services, according to Veterans Affairs. Vets accounted for 18 percent of all deaths from suicide among U.S. adults in 2014, while veterans constituted 8.5 percent of the U.S. population. In 2010, Veterans accounted for 22 percent of all deaths from suicide and 9.7 percent of the population.
There is continued evidence of high burden of suicide among middle-aged and older adult veterans. In 2014, approximately 65 percent of all vets who died from suicide were aged 50 years or older. There’s also a correlation between age of veterans and homelessness that is on the rise.
President Trump Keeps His Promise:
As a candidate, Mr. Trump promised to fire VA employees “who let our veterans down.” Secretary Shulkin has touted the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act bill.
“So to every veteran who is here with us today, I just want to say two very simple words: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You are the warriors and heroes who have won our freedom and we will never forget what you have done for all of us, ever.” – President Donald J. Trump, The White House, June 23, 2017
The bill cleared the House last week by a vote of 368-55, and passed the Senate unanimously by a voice vote.
In April, President Trump signed bipartisan legislation, eliminating an expiration measure enacted by the 2014 Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act. It ensures that veterans do not have to travel long distances to receive care at VA hospitals, and it expands the private-sector health program for vets. It also authorizes the sharing of certain medical records across the governmental and private sector health care systems. Mr. Trump promised that those who serve our country would be able to receive health care at any U.S. hospital – private or public – at the government’s expense and by signing this executive order, President Trump kept that campaign promise.
In June, President Trump approved a measure giving priority for federal grants to those federal and state law enforcement agencies that hire and train veterans.
According to CNN exit polls, veterans voted at a 2-1 ratio for Mr. Trump over Democrat opponent Hillary Clinton. In Ohio, North Carolina and Florida, battleground states rich with military history, several counties voted for Trump at higher numbers than GOP candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney had over former-President Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Featured Image: U.S. President Donald Trump holds up the bill after signing the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, on June 23, 2017, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images)
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