WASHINGTON, D.C. — Fulfilling another of his campaign promises, President Donald Trump on Friday signed Veterans Affairs reform legislation designed to protect whistle blowers who report inappropriate treatment of U.S. veterans.
“Veterans have fulfilled their duty to this nation and now, we must fulfill our duty to them,” Trump said as he signed the legislative order. “So to every veteran who is here with us today, I just want to say two very simple words, thank you.”
During a signing ceremony in the White House’s East Room, the president called it a “national disgrace” that many VA workers involved in mistreatment of veterans were allowed to remain in their roles and that the new law will make sure it “never happens again.”
“This is one of the largest reforms of the VA in its history,” Trump told an audience filled with veterans and their families.
The legislation speeds up the process for VA Secretary David Shulkin to terminate employees, regardless of rank, and permits the agency to rescind bonuses if an employee is convicted of a felony related to his or her duties. It also provides additional protection for whistle blowers who report ill care of mistreatment of veterans being cared for by the VA.
The bill was prompted by the 2014 scandal involving a Phoenix VA medical center where patients died while waiting for health care.
“What happened was a national disgrace and yet, some of the employees involved in these scandals remained on the payrolls,” Trump said.
The House voted 368-55 last week to pass the new legislation before sending it to the president’s desk.
Despite overwhelming bipartisan support for the bill, which was approved by the Senate earlier this month, critics of the legislation have likened the order to a “witch hunt”.
“When poor performers are not dealt with it is not because the civil service laws or procedures are too difficult to utilize. It is because managers do not want to put forward the effort to properly document poor performance so that they can remove or demote these people,” American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. told the Senate.
Despite the criticism, the president called the legislation a “new day” for veterans.
“Veterans were put on secret wait lists, given the wrong medication, given the bad treatments, and ignored in moments of crisis for them. Many veterans died waiting for a simple doctor’s appointment,” said Trump. “Outdated laws kept the government from holding those who failed our veterans accountable.”
“Today,” he added, “we are finally changing those laws.”