Trump Wants to Reward Good VA Employees, and Fire the Bad Ones

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., (right) introduces Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump before a speech in Virginia Beach, Va. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., (right) introduces Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump before a speech in Virginia Beach, Va. Steve Helber/AP

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Monday outlined a 10-point plan to reform the Veterans Affairs Department and improve vets’ access to health care, promising to financially reward employees who do a good job, and fire those who don’t.

“One of the most important reforms we can make is accountability,” Trump said, complaining that “outdated civil service rules” prevented leaders from disciplining problem employees at the department. “Can you imagine the waste and corruption we will find when we begin a full investigation [of the VA] in January 2017?” Trump told the crowd during the speech in Virginia Beach, Va. He said fixing the VA will be “one of my many and highest priorities,” adding “believe me, it will happen. I am really good at things like that.”

Trump said that as part of his multi-pronged plan, he was “going to make sure that the honest and dedicated people in the VA have their jobs protected and are put in line for serious promotions if they continue to do great work.” The Republican said he would give bonuses to employees who improve service to vets and save the government money – an idea that others have floated before.

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Poor performers and those engaged in misconduct at the department would be fired using “every lawful authority,” according to Trump. As for veterans, Trump said they “represent the best in America” and should have better access to both VA and non-VA health care. “I will ensure that every vet has the choice to seek care at the VA, or seek private medical care paid for by our government.”

The 2014 Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act allows veterans who have waited more than 30 days for a medical appointment, or live more than 40 miles from a VA health care facility, to seek private sector care. A congressionally-chartered commission recently released a 300-page report calling for a VA health care system that integrates more private sector facilities, the panel did not recommend privatizing the Veterans Health Administration, as some have proposed. Trump’s plan would allow all vets to access VA health care or private care at the government’s expense, but he did not say he would privatize the VHA.

Trump clearly had been briefed on various VA-related management problems and policies, referencing the patient wait times scandal, the controversy over two senior executives’ relocation benefits, and the botched construction of a Colorado VA facility that grossly exceeded its budget. He also referenced a new VA study on veteran suicide showing that on average 20 veterans a day kill themselves, and said female vets need better access to care because “they are not being treated right.” House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., a strong proponent of more accountability for VA employees, joined Trump at Monday’s event.

The Republican also said he would:

  • Appoint a VA secretary who would “make it his or her personal mission to clean up the VA. He added that his pick would be “a person of great competence” and “not a political hack.”
  • Ask Congress to pass legislation to ensure the secretary has the authority to remove or discipline any employee who “risks the health, safety or well-being” of any veteran.
  • Create a commission to investigate “all the wrongdoing” at the VA and present proposed legislative reforms to Congress.
  • Create a 24/7 White House hotline to handle VA complaints. The calls would be answered by “a real person who picks up the phone.”
  • Reform visa programs to ensure vets are at the front of the line.
  • Increase the number of mental health care professionals and facilities, and expand vets’ access to mental health care outside of the VA system.

Trump also used Monday’s speech to talk about the recent police and civilian shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas, as well as to criticize presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, giving the former secretary of State a new nickname: “Secretary of the Status Quo.”

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