EDITORIAL: Helping veterans by bringing accountability to the VA

The Veterans Administration has long been plagued by a system-wide culture of indifference, incompetence, neglect and malfeasance. For years, employees at various VA facilities subjected veterans to routine delays in processing their disability and compensation claims, making countless veterans wait weeks (or even months) for appointments. VA employees also created secret wait lists to cover up the long wait times, and received bonuses for their efforts.

On top of that, the average VA construction project typically runs an average of 35 months late and $360 million over budget. VA employees have run their departments into the ground and been rewarded with promotions, or have been fired — and then rehired — after their staff members repeatedly stole medications from veterans. And the list goes on and on (and on).

Former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki was forced to resign in May 2014. That same year, Congress passed the Veteran’s Choice Act.

But neither development yielded the sweeping reform needed within the VA.

Now, however, the situation may be changing for the better. President President Trump tapped the aggressive David Shulkin to head the agency in January, and last week signed legislation that gives VA leadership more power to make the agency more accountable.

“Slow, incremental, steady change isn’t what this organization needs,” Mr. Shulkin told Federal News Radio last week. “What we need is bolder, fundamental change, dealing with the issues that — frankly — are really hard to deal with, that go back decades. That means, by definition, we’re going to have to take greater risks.”

Fulfilling a campaign promise to reform the “most corrupt” and “most incompetently run agency in the United States,” President Trump last week signed the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. The law gives leadership at the VA more power to fire negligent employees and to protect those who uncover wrongdoing at the agency.

Speaking at the White House, Mr. Trump said that “for many years, the government failed to keep its promises to our veterans.” He called it “a national disgrace,” and said “outdated laws kept the government from holding those who failed our veterans accountable.”

“Today,” he said, “we are finally changing those laws.”

In a rare display of unity in today’s divisive political climate, the law won bipartisan support in both the Senate and House. Now, if only those same members of Congress would also come together to demand that kind of accountability from all federal agencies.

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