MISSOULA, Mont. - President Donald Trump traveled to the Veterans Administration Thursday to sign an executive order that sets up a special office to improve accountability at the VA and protect whistleblowers.
The order will create a new VA office to identify poorly performing employees. Thursday’s action comes after a scandal engulfed the VA when poor hospital treatment and long wait times for care were uncovered.
For the last year NBC Montana talked to veterans around Montana who could not get in to see doctors and were suddenly slammed with unexpected expenses.
Trump and the VA director praised the signing as a step toward increasing accountability in the agency.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) was invited because Tester helped draft the legislation that initially proposed the same office set up by the executive order.
“I am honored to work with President Trump on holding the VA accountable so it delivers the best possible care for those who put their lives on the line for this great nation,” said Tester, ranking member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “The creation of this office will bring much-needed oversight to an agency that has been struggling. I am proud to see this bipartisan idea come to life, and I will be watching closely to ensure this office improves delivery of critical services for America’s veterans.”
One of the improvements will require wait-time information be posted on VA hospital websites.
Trump said, “This executive order makes it clear that we will never, ever tolerate substandard care for our great veterans. With the creation of this office we're sending a strong message -- those who fail our veterans will be held, for the first time, accountable. At the same time we will reward and retain the many VA employees who do a fantastic job, of which we have many.”
VA Secretary David Shulkin also told the crowd his agency is making improvements. “Since January of 2017 the VA has authorized 6.1 million community care appointments -- nearly 1.8 million more than the same time last year. We've moving quickly to remove bad employees. We simply will not tolerate those who act counter to our values our put our veterans at risk. “
The new office will report directly to the VA secretary.
The president has also signed Tester’s bill that allows more veterans to seek private care if VA facilities are unable to provide services in a reasonable amount of time.