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Trump Just Signed a VA Reform Bill. What Does It Mean for Veterans?

On Friday, President Donald Trump signed the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, which empowers VA Secretary David Shulkin to fire bad employees. Following years of scandals, this bill is a victory for taxpayers and veterans alike, but it is only the first step toward real reform, at the VA and in the federal government generally.

"For many years the government failed to keep its promises," Trump declared before signing the bill. "Veterans were put on secret wait lists, given the wrong medication, given the bad treatments, and ignored in moments of crisis for them. Many veterans died waiting for a simple doctor's appointment." But "outdated laws kept the government from holding those who failed our veterans accountable."

Trump characterized the bill as "one of the largest reforms to the VA in its history. It's a reform that I campaigned on and now I am thrilled to sign that promise into law."

The bill empowers VA Secretary David Shulkin to remove bad employees, but the president insisted that "we want to reward, cherish, and promote the many dedicated employees at the VA." The law also allows Shulkin to hire more medical directors at VA hospitals.

Trump also declared, "believe me, we're just getting started."

The bipartisan bill passed the House of Representatives last week by a vote of 368-55, and it passed the Senate by voice vote.

Both Shulkin and Trump praised Michael Verardo, a retired Army sergeant who lost his left leg after stepping on an explosive device in Afghanistan in 2010. At the signing, Verardo said he was prepared to risk his life for his country, but "what I was not prepared for was coming home to a broken VA system."

After 110 surgeries, Verardo faced long delays and administrative struggles. He recalled waiting 57 days to get his prosthetic leg fixed, making a three-hour round trip so the VA "could check to see that I still had my serious injuries," and a three0and-a-half-year wait "for required adaptive changes to be made so I could safely reside in my own home."

"Under President Trump, those changes were made in weeks," Verardo added.