While veterans programs like VA home loans have helped more than 22 million veterans achieve homeownership, a radical shakeup within The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs itself will likely mean that hundreds of former employees will be in need of help themselves. Since Donald Trump took office on January 20, the VA has fired 525 staffers — and there are probably more dismissals on the way.
Both the current administration and Washington politicians have made it their mission to get the VA to fire personnel more quickly. Trump made cleaning up what he referred to as “probably the most incompetently run agency in the United States” his mission. He even signed the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act into law last month, which speeds up the firing process for senior executives. But even though that law has yet to take effect, the VA wasted no time in putting the president’s infamous catchphrase from The Apprentice into action.
Although $11 billion is lost every year due to employee turnover, the problems with the VA run much deeper. In addition to the removals of more than 500 staffers, another 200 VA workers were suspended so far this year and another 33 were demoted. Senior leaders, nurses, police officers, and physicians were among those disciplined; many housekeeping aides and food service workers, positions that have been filled by former felons and convicted sex workers in the past, were also let go.
Secretary David Shulkin defended the decision in a statement obtained by the Washington Post: “Under this administration, VA is committed to becoming the most transparent organization in government … Veterans and taxpayers have a right to know what we’re doing to hold our employees accountable and make our personnel actions transparent. Posting this information online for all to see, and updating it weekly, will do just that.”
While the firings may seem drastic, the new legislation has won support from both Republicans and Democrats, as well as other organizations devoted to veterans. According to the Daily Caller, the VA has been in desperate need of overhaul but changes have been slow to take effect, largely because the union that represents the agency’s employees has “used its political muscle with Democrats to emphasize job security for government employees.” While these employees have essentially been untouchable in the past, countless veterans have died waiting for care, says writer Luke Rosiak.
Still, not everyone is on board. J. David Cox Sr., President of the American Federation of Government Employees (the union that represents 70% of VA workers), told the Washington Post that the list of removals “isn’t transparency. It’s an intimidation tactic … As former VA Secretary Bob McDonald said, you can’t fire your way to excellence.”