MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Veterans Affairs Department is in the process of holding bad employees accountable amid a scandal about long wait times for patients and other problems, VA Secretary Robert McDonald said Thursday, but he declined to say how many people were being fired and who they were.
McDonald visited with veterans and employees at the Memphis VA hospital on Thursday, a day after addressing the American Veterans national convention.
McDonald said employees who are being fired are allowed due process, but the agency is working as quickly as it can as it goes through the process under a new law that addresses the VA's firing practices.
"You've got to treat that person with respect," he told reporters at the hospital. "They have to be allowed a certain due process that's allowed them by law or by statute or by policy. And, so, we can't talk to you about names, we can't talk to you about individuals, even though that's what you would like. We can't do that because that would be disrespectful.
"On the other hand, we've got to deal with it as quickly as we can," he added. "We've got to deal with it deliberately and we've got to deal with it appropriately. I can tell you, we are going to hold people accountable, and we're going to do that as quickly as we possibly can."
When asked how many people have been fired, he said: "That's not relevant. I mean, what's relevant is what's happened here in Memphis."
A $16.3 billion VA overhaul law signed by President Barack Obama last week grants the VA secretary authority to immediately fire poor-performing senior executives, while providing employees with streamlined appeals rights. Fired employees would have seven days to appeal, with a decision by an administrative judge due in 21 days. The law was adopted after members of Congress from both parties complained that it has taken months to fire VA employees.
In late July, the VA said it wanted to fire two supervisors accused of manipulating health care data in Colorado and Wyoming. Four other employees face suspension, demotion or admonishment. The disclosures came before the new law was signed.
McDonald also said he met with veterans who like the care they have received at the Memphis VA and employees who are passionate about their jobs. But he also heard complaints from veterans who have been critical of the care they have received.
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