President Trump on Thursday signed an executive order that will create a Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection.
Trump said the "order makes it clear that we will never, ever tolerate substandard care for our great veterans." He added, "With the creation of this office we are sending a strong message: Those who fail our veterans will be held, for the first time, accountable. At the same time, we will reward and retain the many VA employees [who] do a fantastic job, of [whom] we have many."
Executive order details
In addition to establishing the accountability office, the executive order will create a new position at VA, called the special assistant to the secretary, who will serve as the accountability offices' executive director. The position will report to the VA secretary.
VA Secretary David Shulkin said the new office and assistant secretary will work to "identify barriers that are preventing [VA] from removing employees and people that we have identified that should no longer be working at VA." He continued, "We're moving quickly to remove bad employees," adding, "We simply will not tolerate those who act counter to our core values and put our veterans at risk."
The executive order also seeks to protect whistleblowers who report wrongdoing within VA by directing the office to "work closely with relevant VA components to ensure swift and effective resolution of veterans' complaints of wrongdoing at the VA" and to "protect employees who lawfully disclose wrongdoing from retaliation."
According to a release, VA will establish the new office and appoint a special assistant to the secretary within 45 days from the executive order's signing. The office will be staffed by current VA employees, the Associated Press reports.
VA announces 3 new initiatives with health care implications
During a signing ceremony for the order, Shulkin announced three new initiatives intended to bolster VA's health care services.
Shulkin said VA on Thursday entered into a partnership agreement with HHS to allow medical professionals at the U.S. Public Health Services Commissioned Corps to provide care at VA hospitals and health centers in underserved areas.
In addition, Shulkin said VA on Thursday launched a new task force focused on preventing fraud, waste, and abuse at VA. According to the release, VA "has identified potential savings in the area of improper payments to health care providers, major contracts, contracts for pharmaceuticals, and the delivery of benefits to veterans" that could be achieved through reducing fraud, waste, and abuse.
Lastly, Shulkin said VA is changing some of its guidelines to allow state-owned nursing homes that serve veterans to comply with state guidelines on how their facilities should be designed, instead of having to comply with federal guidelines to receive federal funding. According to the release, veterans nursing homes that comply with state construction design requirements will continued to qualify "for the same level of federal grant funding as before" the change (Punke, Becker's Hospital Review, 4/27; Presidential Executive Order on Improving Accountability and Whistleblower Protection at the Department of Veterans Affairs, 4/27; VA release, 4/27; Superville/Yen, AP/Sacramento Bee, 4/27).
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