On the eve of Veterans Day, new Secretary of Veteran Affairs Robert McDonald said that “the largest restructuring in the department’s history is under way” and that at least 35 people are facing disciplinary action, with as many as 1,000 to follow. The action follows a nationwide scandal this summer over the thousands of veterans waiting for health care.
McDonald made the announcement at a forum at The Washington Post on Monday on the new book featuring their stories,”For Love of Country,” by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Washington Post senior writer Rajiv Chandrasekaran.
More than 2.5 million Americans served in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept 11, the longest period of warfare in the country’s history.
“This book shows how much leadership, courage and perseverance veterans have,” McDonald said. “And it’s the VA’s privilege and pride to care for them. We have a real opportunity right now and there is no more noble or inspiring mission.”
McDonald, who took over the 330,000-person agency three months ago after his predecessor Eric Shinseki resigned, said the firings would be taking place soon, but did not give a specific timeline.
“We’re talking about people who violated our values,” McDonald said. “Those values are integrity, it’s advocacy, it’s excellence.”
McDonald has said in previous media interviews last week that he first needs to build up a case against each person on “the pink slip list.” A judge needs to approve each firing.
“The law didn’t grant any kind of new power that would suddenly give me the ability to walk into a room and simply fire people,” he said at a breakfast with reporters in Washington on Thursday. “Our Constitution provides for due process, and we are following the due process.”
McDonald also said he hopes to hire about 28,000 medical professionals to join the agency’s hospitals and clinics around the country, including about 2,500 mental health professionals.
Additionally, McDonald’s reforms will restructure everything from what he calls the “too confusing” Web sites to giving veterans a single point of contact to get care.
“Everything must be measured against on question: “Is this organization centered on the veteran.”
McDonald said his reforms and restructuring will focus on the driving issue behind the VA’s 90-day-plus wait times in some areas and the coverup by employees, which was reported last year.