The scandal-mired Department of Veterans Affairs will undergo a massive restructuring, lay off or otherwise discipline more than 1,000 employees, and hire 28,000 medical personnel, new Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald announced on Sunday and Monday.
The restructuring will help streamline how veterans obtain their benefits from the VA, from health care to cemetery plots. The plan, dubbed MyVA by McDonald, should eventually allow veterans to use one username and password online to access all their benefits.
The VA already took disciplinary action against 5,600 employees in the past year, McDonald said. But the process takes time, since a judge needs to approve each firing and employees can appeal disciplinary actions.
The actions, announced on the eve of Veterans Day, target many of the issues surfaced by the VA scandal. As many as 40 veterans are believed to have died, based on earlier media reports and a report from the inspector general's office, after they were placed on secret wait lists at the Phoenix, Arizona, VA hospital. By placing veterans on a secret wait list, VA administrators and schedulers managed to hide the long wait times — and continue receiving financial pay bonuses attached to timely scheduling. (An audit later characterized the bonuses as perverse incentives, since they encouraged VA staff to cheat and lie instead of report hospitals' inability to see patients quickly.)
But part of the problems were also a result of the VA's failure, due to staff shortages and inadequate infrastructure, to deal with an influx of aging Vietnam War veterans and veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Congress passed legislation earlier in the year meant to allow the VA to build up its medical staff. McDonald's announcements are also meant to address those capacity issues, as well as punish staff who allowed or carried out the mistreatment of thousands of veterans around the country.