Articles

Hundreds of VA employees get pink slips over White House pledge to clean up agency

Five hundred and forty-eight Department of Veterans Affairs employees have been terminated since President Donald Trump took office, indicating that his campaign pledge to clean up "probably the most incompetently run agency in the United States" by relentlessly putting his TV catch phrase "you're fired" into action was more than just empty rhetoric.


Another 200 VA workers were suspended and 33 demoted, according to data newly published by the department as part of VA Secretary David Shulkin's commitment to greater transparency. Those disciplined include 22 senior leaders, more than 70 nurses, 14 police officers, and 25 physicians.

Also disciplined were a program analyst dealing with the Government Accountability Office, which audits the department, a public affairs specialist, a chief of police, and a chief of surgery.

Many housekeeping aides and food service workers — lower-level jobs in which the department has employed felons and convicted sex offenders — were also fired.

United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin. DoD Photo by Megan Garcia

Scores of veterans have died waiting for care while VA bureaucrats falsified data to procure monetary bonuses, but fixes have been slow to come by largely because the union that represents VA employees has used its political muscle with Democrats to emphasize job security for government employees.

Former President Barack Obama originally appointed Shulkin as a VA undersecretary. By the end of the Obama administration, however, Shulkin had grown increasingly frustrated with the American Federation of Government Employees union and other groups defending bad employees' supposed right to a government check even when they hurt veterans.

"Just last week we were forced to take back an employee after they were convicted no more than three times for DWI and had served a 60 day jail sentence … Our accountability processes are clearly broken," Shulkin said at the White House.

In addition to reluctance by managers to vigorously pursue firings, the overturning of firings after the fact by the Merit Systems Protection Board — often with little public acknowledgment — has been a longstanding problem.

President Donald Trump. DoD Photo by Maj. Randy Harris

Shulkin asked for new legislation that reduces the role of MSPB, especially when firing senior leaders. Congress passed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act in answer, and Trump signed the bill in June.

The published data predates those new powers, and does not note which disciplinary actions were later overturned.

One record shows a "senior leader" being removed January 20, while another record shows a "senior leader" being demoted April 21. Those appear to refer to the same person — disgraced Puerto Rico VA director DeWayne Hamlin — who returned to work in a lesser job after he appealed to the MSPB.

Former Obama Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald seemed to have so little grasp on firing employees that in August 2016, he said that he had fired 140,000 employees, a figure that made little sense since that would be nearly half the workforce.

Former Puerto Rico VA director DeWayne Hamlin. DoD Photo by Joseph Rivera Rebolledo.

He said "you can't fire your way to excellence" and blamed "negative news articles" for a morose culture, rather than the individuals perpetrating the misconduct described in those articles.

Though high-level hospital officials were affected, according to the data covering the first six months of the Trump administration, relatively few disciplinary actions occurred in the central offices where Washington bureaucrats work. Those employ fewer people than the hospitals, but repeated scandals have also shown such employees looking out for one another to preserve each others' jobs.

There were five firings in the Veterans Health Administration Central Office, including one senior leader. There were also two in the Office of General Counsel, and one in the office of Congressional and Legislative affairs.

The data does not include employees' names, and does not show which employees were on new-employee probationary status. Employees can be fired much more easily during their first year.

Former Obama Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald. Photo from US Department of Veterans Affairs.

During the Obama administration, McDonald lamented that in the private sector "you cut a deal with the employee and you're able to buy them out," but said you cannot do that in government.

Yet VA repeatedly made five and six-figure payments to bad employees to get them to quit after they threatened to gum up the works by appealing disciplinary actions. The department even allowed Hamlin to offer a low-level employee $300,000 to quit after she refused to help management retaliate against a whistleblower who exposed Hamlin's arrest.

The agency paid more than $5 million in settlements to employees under McDonald, which had the effect of encouraging bad employees to relentlessly appeal and make unsupported charges of discrimination when they were targeted for discipline, in an often-successful attempt to convert punishment into reward.

Shulkin said he "will look to settle with employees only when they clearly have been wronged … and not as a matter of ordinary business."

International

What a Korean peace could mean for the nature preserve at the DMZ

The 2.5-mile wide, 148-mile long stretch of land that separates South Korea from North Korea is undoubtedly the most fortified border in the world. Landmines dot the land and each side is ready to destroy the other at a moment's notice.

The land between them, however, has been untouched by humans for roughly sixty years and, as a result, hosts a unique composition of flora and fauna. With recent peace talks between North and South Korea, this could all be in danger.

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

How R. Lee Ermey's Hollywood break is an inspiration to us all

While there have been many outstanding actors and celebrities who have raised their right hand, there has never been a veteran who could finger point his way to the top of Hollywood stardom quite like the late great Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey.

Keep reading... Show less

Travis Manion Foundation honors fallen Marine — and builds America at the same time

Travis Manion Foundation empowers veterans and families of fallen heroes while striving to strengthen America's national character. The non-profit was named for 1st Lt. Travis Manion, a Marine who was killed by an enemy sniper while saving his wounded teammates on April 29, 2007.

Today, Travis Manion Foundation exists to carry on the legacy of character, service, and leadership embodied by Travis and all those who have served and continue to serve our nation.

Keep reading... Show less
GEAR & TECH

4 reasons why 360-degree cameras should be on the battlefield

Within the last few years, 360-degree cameras have hit the market and they're changing the way we record our favorite memories. They may also have implications for how our nation fights its enemies.

When it comes to fighting a ground war, having as many sets of surveilling eyes as possible is a good idea — an idea that could save lives.

Keep reading... Show less
History

Why the Tokyo Raiders didn't bomb the Japanese emperor

In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, America was very angry and very eager to kick some ass — hence the decision to carry out the Doolittle raid. America wanted to take the fight to the enemy, and we wanted to do so as soon as possible.

Keep reading... Show less

11 memes that will remind you of living in the barracks

Living in a military barracks is an experience unlike any other. You'll either get stuck in an absolute sh*thole where nothing works or, by some crazy stroke of luck, you'll score a place in a little palace that has a functioning TV.

Regardless, you'll come away with some epic memories of dumb working parties and hilarious stories of trying to sneak temporary partners through your front door.

Keep reading... Show less
Lists

4 reasons why the quiet sergeants are the scariest ones

Many civilians have a twisted understanding of how the military operates. Honestly, it might be best not to correct them. Their minds would be collectively blown if they knew the magnitude of downtime and dumb things that happen to our nation's fighting men and women.

Keep reading... Show less

Everybody involved in that dino puppet reenlistment video just got fired

In the worst military overreaction since the Faber College ROTC pledge pin incident of 1962, the Tennessee National Guard's adjutant general announced April 18, 2018, that everyone involved in a recent viral video of a kooky reenlistment ceremony would have their careers wrecked, because that's how you honor our military traditions, dammit.

Keep reading... Show less