President Donald Trump has relieved more than 8,000 Veterans Affairs employees for failing their duties since they took office, said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.
In a press conference, Wilkie said that “the standard is if you don’t live up to your oath if you don’t live up to the standards that our veterans expect, that you will be asked to leave,” according to a White House transcript.
Hailing the Trump-led development, “This is a transformational moment in our history,” he said.
He elaborated, “We have relieved over 8,000 employees of their duty at VA … We have relieved people as high as network directors to people at the other end of our employee chain. After the scandals of Phoenix, the scandals of 2014 and 2015, this is, I think, one of the strongest statements that we can make: that it is a new day at VA.
A series of incidents rocked the Veterans Affairs agency in recent years. Among other scandals, CNN in 2014 reported that at least 19 veterans died in VA hospitals in 2010 and 2011 due to delays in diagnosis and treatment. It also reported the same year that 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments to see a doctor at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System.
The reports of veterans not getting adequate health care triggered an Obama administration investigation in Phoenix.
Wilkie noted that VA employees were removed for not performing their duties to the proper standards.
“This is, I think, one of the strongest statements that we can make: That it is a new day at VA,” Wilkie said.
Trump remarked about Veterans Affairs during an October speech in Florida.
“Do you remember all of the bad stories that used to be about the VA?” he asked, according to a transcript. “Now you don’t see that because they have accountability. We can fire bad people. We fired a tremendous number of really bad people that should’ve been fired years ago. I don’t like firing people, but I like firing people that don’t treat our vets great, that aren’t doing their job.”
In 2018, the president dismissed former VA Secretary David Shulkin after the release of an inspector general report that said he engaged in wasteful and unethical actions. According to the Military Times, Shulkin was the only holdover from former President Barack Obama’s administration who also served in Trump’s cabinet, having previously served as VA undersecretary for health since June 2015.
In the Friday speech, Wilkie also praised Trump for giving his agency the largest budget in its history. “This puts veterans at the center of their healthcare decisions, not the institutional prerogatives of VA, but veterans,” he said.