Trump creates accountability office at VA

Trump Hiring Freeze

Trump and the VA director praised the signing as a step toward increasing accountability in the agency. As part of that process, Secretary Shulkin has carried out a really thorough review - and he had some very inside understanding of the VA because he's been here - but a thorough review of the VA to uncover all of the problems and challenges that we inherited, of where there were so many. Story Continued Below The office will work, he said, to ensure "that we identify systemic barriers that prevent us from making the right decisions and also make sure that we're honoring the commitments that we have to our whistleblowers who've come forth and identified issues so that there's not retaliation".

The office is a byproduct of a 2014 scandal in which as many as 40 veterans died while waiting months for appointments at the VA medical centre in Phoenix.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin told reporters Wednesday that the office will review all VA employees and protect those who find employees within the agency who "have deviated" from the mission of serving veterans.

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.

Trump signed an executive order creating the office during a visit Thursday to the VA.

Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona, a member of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, introduced legislation in 2015 to create an "Office of Whistleblower and Patient Protection" in VA, similar to the Trump executive order's plan.

But Shulkin told USA Today that he alone would oversee the new accountability office, and it would focus on the entire VA workforce, not just senior officers - the main subject of OAR's work.

"This executive order makes it clear that we will never ever tolerate substandard care for our great veterans", Trump said. "So it's taking accountability up to the highest level", Shulkin said.

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"We're going to help and we're going to make this so good".

Meanwhile, veterans' groups want the Senate to act soon to send the accountability legislation to Trump for his signature.

"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 order will create a new VA office to identify poorly performing employees.

Earlier in the day, VA officials announced they planned to leave open thousands of positions left vacant by the recent federal hiring freeze, citing the need for leaner department operations. Shulkin said he didn't have dollar figures for how much the office would cost, but said it will require a "substantial commitment".

Among those who stood with the President as he signed the bill was the whistleblower himself, Brandon Coleman.

The new task force will look at VA's overall national footprint and whether current services are duplicating efforts.

Tom Lutey, of The Billings Gazette, contributed reporting.

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