WASHINGTON (AP/WWJ) – President Donald Trump signed a bill into law Friday that will make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire employees, part of a push to overhaul an agency that is struggling to serve millions of military vets.
“Our veterans have fulfilled their duty to our nation and now we must fulfill our duty to them,” Trump said during a White House ceremony. “To every veteran who is here with us today, I just want to say two very simple words: Thank you.”
Trump repeatedly promised during the election campaign to dismiss VA workers “who let our veterans down,” and he cast Friday’s bill signing as fulfillment of that promise.
The measure was prompted by a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died as they waited months for care. The VA is the second-largest department in the U.S. government, with more than 350,000 employees, and it is charged with providing health care and other services to military veterans.
Federal employee unions opposed the measure. VA Secretary David Shulkin, an Obama administration holdover, stood alongside Trump as the president jokingly suggested he’d have to invoke his reality TV catchphrase “You’re fired” if the reforms were not implemented.
The legislation, which many veterans’ groups supported, cleared the House last week by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 368-55, replacing an earlier version that Democrats had criticized as overly unfair to employees. The Senate passed the bill by voice vote a week earlier.
Former state lawmaker, current political pundit and U-S Army Reservist Rocky Raczkowski spoke with WWJ on the bill passing, and said veterans have been waiting for this for over 12 years.
“It basically allows the Department of Defense, the VA, and your medical doctor who may be down the street from you to use the same electronic medical records,” Raczkowski said. “It also allows veterans that can’t get into the VA to go to a private doctor, and have that private doctor be reimbursed. And this is the big one, it allows for the Secretary of Veterans Administration to fire employees.”
With the scandal in 2014 sparking this bill some wondered what took so long for this to come together. Raczkowski explained that there were a lot of moving parts that needed to be ironed out before it could pass.
“You’ve got union considerations, civil service considerations that the democrats were concerned about, and you have some considerations for the republicans that wanted to know how much it would cost to put the electronic medical records into effect,” Raczkowski said. “So both parties really had to come together but finally you have a president, President Trump, that agreed with the house and senate majority to pass this.”
The bill also turns another of Trump’s campaign into law by creating a permanent VA accountability office, which Trump established by executive order in April.
The VA has been plagued for years by problems, including the 2014 scandal, where employees created secret lists to cover up delays in appointments. Critics say few employees are fired for malfeasance.