Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Shulkin upheld his commitment of bringing more accountability into the VA by firing the former Director of the D.C. VA Medical Center, Brian Hawkins.
Hawkins was originally fired in late July after investigations found gross mismanagement and negligence at the D.C. VA. It found that under Hawkins’ watch, veterans were put at an “unnecessary risk” due to the “highest levels of chaos” at the facility. Conditions were so bad, the VA Inspector General took an unprecedented step by releasing an interim report of their findings before their investigation was complete.
But then an unaccountable government board, the Merit Systems Protection Board, reinstated Hawkins despite the findings of failed leadership of Hawkins. Although Hawkins was theoretically reassigned to an administrative position, it’s still unacceptable that someone who put veterans’ in jeopardy was allowed to go back on the VA payroll.
Thankfully, VA Secretary Shulkin vowed to use his new authority granted to him by the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act to fire the employee again. Shulkin forcefully declared after the MSPB forced the VA to rehire Hawkins:
“No judge who has never run a hospital and never cared for our nation’s Veterans will force me to put an employee back in a position when he allowed the facility to pose potential safety risks to our Veterans. Protecting our Veterans is my most important responsibility.”
The difficulty of trying to fire bad employees underscores why the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act was needed in the first place. Before the legislation was passed into law, it was nearly impossible to fire a bad employee. Now, the timeline for firing an employee has been cut down significantly and Secretary Shulkin has the ability to recoup bonuses of former employees who were found guilty of misconduct.
Secretary Shulkin followed through on protecting veterans and rightly used this new firing authority. Secretary Shulkin called firing Hawkins “the right decision for Veterans in D.C., and employees at the medical center.” The acceptance of incompetence cannot be the norm if veterans want to receive quality, timely care. Holding every level of leadership accountable is imperative to fixing the toxic culture that is pervasive throughout the VA.
Although this is not the first time a bad employee has been fired using this new authority, this high-profile firing sends a message that no matter their position, employees will be held accountable. We urge Secretary Shulkin to continue to protect our veterans and ensure delinquent employees are not tolerated at the VA.