WASHINGTON, June 22, 2017 – It is a campaign promise kept. Saying that he wants every Veteran to feel respect, honor and the nation’s gratitude every time they walk into a VA facility, President Donald Trump signed the nonpartisan VA Accountability Act.
“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 Outdated laws kept the government from holding those who failed our veterans accountable.”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 president says that getting to this day has not been easy. That over the last five months, many changes have been made. Wait times for appointments are reduced and a watchdog website, Access to Care, has been created. Mental health support is now immediate.
Standing by their president, and giving mistreatment of Veterans a face was Mike Verardo and his wife Sarah. Verardo is a retired Army sergeant who lost his left leg and suffered burns over 40% of his body in Afghanistan after stepping on an improvised explosive device in 2010. That was only the beginning of a nightmare that included three years in military hospitals before being transferred to VA care where wait times for repair to his prosthetic were nearly two months and neurological appointments even longer.Sarah Verardo said.
Sarah Verardo said.
“The buck kept getting passed,” she said. “I was very frustrated.”
America has seen the Verardos before. The couple sat in a VIP box with Trump and his family during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last July and they proudly stood with the President again today.To the Verardos, the moment will signal a promise kept.
To the Verardos, the President has kept a promise made to them.
“We’ve been fighting for VA reform and accountability, and we feel that it was championed under candidate Trump. We got to know him, his family, and learned how important VA reform was to him,” Sarah Verardo said. “We are really excited. I’m so relieved and glad to see this.”
The law, which won bipartisan support in both the Senate and House, comes after years of stories about chaos inside the VA that led to the death veterans that 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.
One of the biggest changes to the process is that the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act passed by Congress earlier this month streamlines the process to remove, demote, or suspend VA employees for poor performance or misconduct.
In 2014 the VA paid out more than $276 million in bonuses, including retention and relocation payments, rewards for saving money on travel or coming up with a new good idea, both things that should be automatic, not a bonus pay action. Of that amount, cash bonuses of $142.5 million were paid to executives and employees based on performance reviews, despite massive scandals throughout the VA system.
Claims processors in one of the worst rated benefits offices in the country received from $300 to $900 each, while in Tomah, Wisconsin, administrators who failed to monitor and protect veterans from opioid over-prescription received from $1,000 to $4,000.
Other bonus recipients included executives who mismanaged the construction of a Denver facility, years overdue and more than a billion dollars over budget. Or the Chief of Staff of a St. Cloud, MN facility who, despite being cited by investigators, received, a $4,000 performance bonus.
With this act, whistleblower protection will be expanded and the VA will be prevented from dismissing an employee who has an open complaint against the department.
The president said the VA has been the most corrupt and mismanaged organization, all at the deficit of the American heroes they are supposed to serve.
Trump was joined by several lawmakers during the signing ceremony, including Sens. John Boozman of Arkansas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Dan Sullivan of Alaska.