President Donald Trump signed a law protecting whistleblowers at the Department of Veterans Affairs and making it easier to fire problem employees. Trump campaigned on the platform of overhauling the agency serving US veterans.
The 2017 “VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act” makes permanent the office Trump created by executive order to look into claims by agency whistleblowers and protect them from retaliation.
“The administration is committed to ensuring the nation’s veterans have access to the care, services, and benefits they have earned,” the White House said in a statement about the legislation. “To achieve this goal, it is critical that employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are held to the highest performance standards, and that they are accountable when those standards are not met.”
The new law strips away senior agency executives’ right to appeal disciplinary decisions to the government’s Merit Systems Protection Board, replacing it with an internal agency grievance process. It also allows the VA to take back bonuses paid to employees found guilty of misconduct, and prohibits employees who are appealing disciplinary decisions from being placed on paid administrative leave.
VA Secretary David Shulkin complained about the existing disciplinary procedures in May, calling the agency’s accountability process “clearly broken.”
Current rules require a 30-day waiting period before any disciplinary action, and the VA currently has 1,500 proceedings pending, Shulkin said. He cited the case of a psychiatrist who was caught watching pornography on his iPad while meeting with a veteran, but the agency can’t fire him for another month. In another case, a court forced the VA to hire back an employee who spent two months in jail for drunken driving.