American Elephants


Draining the Swamp at the Veterans Administration by The Elephant's Child

Our Veterans seeking care from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can perhaps breathe a little easier. Five hundred and forty-eight VA employees have been terminated since Donald Trump took office and David Shulkin  took over as secretary of what was called “probably the most incompetently run agency in the United States.”

Another 200 VA workers have been suspended and 33 have been demoted. Those disciplined include 22 senior leaders, more than 70 nurses, 14 police officers and 25 physicians. A program analyst dealing with the Government Accountability, which audits the department, a public affairs specialist, a chef of police and a chief of surgery were also disciplined.

Food service workers, housekeeping aides were also fired.  Lower level jobs in which the deportment has employed felons and convicted sex-offenders were also fired. You could call it a rigorous housecleaning.

The record of failed care for veterans has become a national scandal. Mr. Shulkin was initially appointed by former president Obama as a VA undersecretary, but by the end of the Obama administration he was increasingly frustrated with the American Federation of Government Employees union which defended the rights of bad employees to a government paycheck even when they are harming the veterans they were there to serve. Managers were reluctant to vigorously pursue firings, and firings were often overturned by the federal Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).

Put in charge by President Trump, Shulkin asked Congress for new legislation to reduce the role of MSPB, especially when firing senior leaders. Congress passed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act in response, and Trump signed the bill in June.

The VA has been found to be a prime abuser of extended paid leave. Two or more years seems excessive, but it was not unusual. Here’s how bureaucracy works: the inspector general’s staff is designed to avoid conflicts of interest in internal investigations. Their work can lead to criminal charges, but they become involved only in an internal review finds evidence on criminal activity. VA internal investigative policies are designed to see if policies and procedures are followed, not to look for criminal activity.

In a 2013 case where an elderly hospitalized veteran died at a Louisiana hospital, in March of 2013. A VA internal investigation found that Harris, a nurses aide, had violated no policies and was not negligent, so was returned to patient care, in April.  However, the local coroner found that the veteran had died of blunt force trauma to the head, and witnesses told him and the VA inspetor general that they saw Harris striking the man. Harris was arrested on December 10, 2013. Harris was out on bail, and on extended (2 years) paid leave until just 3 days before his trial. It was the coroner’s intervention that led to a criminal probe by the IG.

It seems that when the VA wants to appease congressional critics or media critics or even just prevent poor-performing employees from doing further damage, the department paid them to stay home instead of firing them. Even during the campaign Trump talked about “draining the swamp” and the care we owed to our veterans. There is no excuse for such irresponsible practices. Looks like the swamp is finally starting to drain. 548 terminated, and that may be only the beginning. The organization has been put on notice that our veterans will be faithfully served.

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