WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump made good on a campaign promise Friday, signing into law legislation that gives leadership at the Department of Veterans Affairs more power to fire failed employees and protect those who uncover wrongdoing at the agency.
“For many years, the government failed to keep its promises to our veterans. We all remember the nightmare that veterans suffered during the VA scandals that were exposed a few years ago,” Trump said during remarks in the East Room of the White House.
“Veterans were put on secret wait lists, given the wrong medication, given the bad treatments, and ignored in moments of crisis for them,” he said. “Many veterans died waiting for a simple doctor’s appointment. What happened was a national disgrace, and yet some of the employees involved in these scandals remained on the payrolls. Outdated laws kept the government from holding those who failed our veterans accountable.”
“Today,” Trump said, “we are finally changing those laws.”
The law, which won bipartisan support in both the Senate and House, comes after years of stories about chaos inside the VA, including CNN investigations in 2013 and 2014 that found dozens of veterans died or were seriously injured because of long wait times at hospitals across the country.
“In just a short time we’ve already achieved transformative change at the VA, and believe me, we’re just getting started,” Trump said.
The measure passed the House by a 368-55 vote earlier this month. It passed the Senate by a unanimous voice vote.
Trump promised throughout his 2016 presidential campaign to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs, and tapped David Shulkin, a former VA official under President Barack Obama, to head the reform effort.
Trump called the department the “most corrupt” and “most incompetently run agency in the United States” during the campaign when he released a 10-point reform plan for the department.
And in a meeting earlier this year with veterans group, Trump vowed to make good on his promises.
“As commander in chief, I will not accept substandard service for our great veterans,” he said.
Trump will be joined by several lawmakers during the signing ceremony, including Sens. John Boozman of Arkansas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Dan Sullivan of Alaska.
The VA scandal during the Obama administration engulfed the department, leading to the resignation of Secretary Eric Shinseki after CNN uncovered the existence of a secret scheduling list at the VA in Phoenix.
The new law gives Shulkin and future VA secretaries the power to get rid of employees who break department rules and increases whistleblower protections.
Shulkin pushed for this kind of reform bill during his confirmation process and in the first months of his tenure, arguing that the department was “still in critical condition” and more accountability was needed to improve the treatment veterans receive.