News & Politics

The VA Secretary Himself Is Now Calling for VA Accountability

YouTube screenshot of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin on Fox News.

Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin full-throatedly endorsed legislation to reform the VA on Friday, after an employee watched pornography on the job, in view of a veteran, and could not be fired immediately under current law.

“I need the authority as secretary to remove these people immediately,” Shulkin declared on “Fox & Friends” Sunday morning. He added that employees “who don’t show up to work, who do cocaine, and who are watching porn at work, are gonna be fired, because I’m not gonna tolerate it.”

Under current law, however, even the VA secretary cannot immediately dismiss a federal employee who is caught watching porn on the job, in front of a veteran. In a Friday press release, Shulkin reported that “an employee of the Michael DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston” was “caught watching pornography while with a patient.” Staff were able to take appropriate precautions, but even Shulkin lacked the legal ability to remove the employee in question immediately.

“VA immediately removed the employee in question from patient care and placed the employee on administrative duties,” the press release reported. But “due to current law, the deciding official cannot affect a final determination for 30 days from the date the proposal for removal was made.”

“This is an example of why we need accountability legislation as soon as possible,” Shulkin declared in the press release. “It’s unacceptable that VA has to wait 30 days to act on a proposed removal.”

Under current law, the VA must continue to pay employees who are in the process of being removed. Any worker gets an advanced notice period — at least 30 days from the date a worker’s removal has been proposed — and during that time he or she will still be paid, unless there is evidence the employee committed a crime.

Even if an employee in the process of being fired has been assessed as a potential danger to veterans, he or she would be placed on administrative leave with pay.

This past month, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1259, the “VA Accountability First Act of 2017,” which would empower the VA secretary to fire bad employees without a waiting period. The press release praised Congress for making “employee accountability a priority.”

“Current legislation in Congress reduces the amount of time we have to wait before taking action,” Shulkin explained in the release.

“If we’re going to get rid of these employees that have lost their way, we need changes in the law,” the VA secretary said on Fox Sunday. He urged the U.S. Senate to pass the bill, adding, “I know the president is looking forward to being able to sign an accountability bill.”

Despite this hard stance on firing VA employees who watch porn on the job, Shulkin insisted that “the vast majority of employees are the best we have in this country serving our veterans. We can’t let a few individuals tarnish our system.”

Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), a nonprofit group dedicated to VA reform, praised Shulkin for taking this stance. “It is incredibly refreshing to see Dr. Shulkin emphatically calling for strong accountability measures at the VA,” CVA’s policy director, Dan Caldwell, said in a press release Sunday. “Under the previous administration, the Secretaries spent most of their time denying that problems with the department existed.”

“An employee caught watching pornography with a VA patient should be escorted out of the building immediately, never to return,” Caldwell declared. “The VA is forced to retain employees like this due to incredibly cumbersome and bureaucratic regulations. To change this, the Senate must move quickly on the VA Accountability First Act of 2017.”

But not everyone supports the bill. American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) National President J. David Cox Sr. attacked it as “a union-busting bill — plain and simple.” The AFGE president declared that the bill “will only advance the agenda of the Koch brothers, anti-union lawmakers, and private, for-profit corporations that would reap the benefits of a dismantled VA medical system.”

“Backhanded efforts to eliminate employees’ workplace rights does nothing to improve the VA or veterans’ care,” Cox declared.

“Once again, some lawmakers have completely ignored the evidence that the VA provides veterans the best — and only — integrated healthcare system tailored entirely to their needs,” the union president said. “Instead of hiring the more than 45,000 frontline caregivers our veterans desperately need, they’d rather spend their time sticking it to the people who serve veterans every day.”

In light of recent porn-related events — not to mention the Houston VA falsifying wait times, the Oklahoma veteran who died with maggots in his wound, and the report that VA employees worked over 1 million hours for unions on the taxpayers’ dime — Cox’s comments ring especially hollow.

Click “Load More” to watch Shulkin’s Fox News interview.