Trump planned to sign an executive order Thursday to create a VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, according to a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the matter on the record. Why those failures occurred and whether anyone will be held accountable ought to be addressed as the inspector general's office finishes its work and VA officials and Congress conduct their own reviews. "I am proud to see this bipartisan idea come to life, and I will be watching closely to ensure this office improves delivery of critical services for America's veterans".
It would give the VA secretary more flexibility to remove, demote or suspend employees for misconduct.
The new office will help discipline or terminate VA managers or employees who fail to carry out their duties. "This is going to be substantial", he said.
Despite the lifting of a federal hiring freeze, the Department of Veterans Affairs is opting to leave thousands of positions unfilled. "We're actually proactively reaching out to those veterans at highest risk of suicide", he said.
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin toured the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center Friday, met with administrators and conducted interviews of hospital staff concerning the late February viral Facebook post showing a veteran, exhausted, lying on a floor after having waited hours for medical attention.
"This executive order makes it clear that we will never ever tolerate substandard care for our great veterans", Trump said.
Despite the coming executive order, "we know that that's not going to be enough to get done what I want to get done, which is to be able to, once we identify people that need to leave the organization, to get them out quickly".
Standing at a podium in Durham Shulkin said, "in this region" there has been a recent 67 percent increase in veterans' opting to pursue private sector medical treatment through the Veterans Choice Program.
"It seems to a reversal of what they have been saying, and it's disappointing", said Garry Augustine, executive director of Disabled American Veterans' Washington headquarters.
The office is supposed to identify barriers that make it hard to fire or reassign workers who are deemed unfit, VA Secretary David Shulkin told reporters at a White House press briefing on Wednesday.
They've sparred with Republican lawmakers over new accountability legislation already passed by the House (and endorsed by Shulkin) which would shorten appeals times and allow easier firing of employees involved in wrongdoing.
Shulkin said establishing the new office will incur some costs, but did not offer further details about its employee totals or budget. It also has been ordered to stand up a central whistleblower office.
Right now, the VA is rolling out a new predictive tool called "Reach Vet".
Tom Lutey, of The Billings Gazette, contributed reporting.