President Donald Trump has announced he will sign an Executive Order this Thursday to create the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection.
The Executive Order is written for the purpose of helping “the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to discipline or terminate VA managers or employees who fail to carry out their duties in helping our veterans. The Office will also identify barriers to the Secretary’s authority to put the well-being of our veterans first.” It will also help protect whistleblowers.
New accountability legislation is moving through Congress but is noted by The Daily Caller News Foundation (TheDCNF) to presently be facing an uphill battle.
That uphill battle is the result of crafty lawmakers colluding with VA officials in a move to marry veterans appeals reform with the accountability act.
Outcry within the veteran community has resulted in a groundswell against appeals reforms because the reforms will limit veterans rights and the duties VA is required to adhere to when assisting a veteran’s claim on appeal.
If the reforms become law, they will restrict a veteran’s ability to develop evidence for a claim on appeal and will significantly limit the agency’s duty to assist the veteran in developing evidence on appeal in the manner presently required.
In a shadow meeting with The Big Six, the Department of Veterans Affairs negotiated an agreement with leadership of at least a few of the organizations to take the heat for the regulatory reforms coming should the present accountability and appeals reforms be voted into law.
With this Executive Order, President Trump is effectively shunting the “accountability” portion of the legislation, which will force the appeals reforms to stand on their own.
Without the public leverage for VA accountability to lean on, the reforms package as they stand will likely not be successful.
New VA Office
So, in theory, the new office will be created to help VA leadership terminate the employment of bad VA managers and those same managers who retaliate against whistleblowers. However, some are concerned the joint mission of the office will result in good employees being terminated for whistleblowing, depending on who staffs the office.
Now, isn’t there already an office for this called the Office of Special Counsel and the Office of Inspector General? Both of these offices, one outside the VA and the other is the supposed designated VA watchdog, supposed to make recommendations the administration should follow?
Brandon Coleman, an infamous VA whistleblower and activist who was retaliated against, thinks the move might be positive.
“I smiled when I heard this was happening Thursday,” Brandon Coleman, a noted Phoenix VA whistleblower, told TheDCNF. “I applaud President Trump for not waiting to take action but instead continuing his push for accountability at the VA with this executive order.”
“I think we have a VA Secretary in Dr. David Shulkin that wants to bring transparency to the Department of Veterans Affairs and setting up a whistleblower division is a great way to bring whistleblowers to the table instead of trying to destroy our careers, as the VA has done time and time again over the past 3 years,” Coleman added. “Whistleblowers are the only ones who have continued to tell the truth at great risk to our professional careers within VA.”
As stated earlier, this Executive Order divorces appeals reform from accountability.
While the creation of yet another office may not be a perfect solution, veterans may experience some benefits by not losing appeals rights in order to hold rogue agency employees accountable.