Under pressure from GOP lawmakers to clean house more swiftly at the scandal-rocked VA, Secretary for Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald is reportedly about to embark on the biggest reorganization in the agency's history —
including the firings of up to 1,000 workers.
In an interview with "60 Minutes" on Sunday —
an excerpt of which is being aired Friday night on the "CBS Evening News" with Scott Pelley —
McDonald says changes at the agency will be "aggressive" and discipline "expeditious."
"The report we've passed up to the Senate Committee and House Committee has about 35 names on it," he told "60 Minutes," according to an excerpt provided by CBS News. "I've got another report that has over 1,000."
"We're simplistically talking about people who violated our values," he says. "It's integrity, it's advocacy, it's respect, it's excellence. These are the things that we try to do for our veterans."
But firings have to go before an administrative judge first, "60 Minutes" notes, a process that can be slow.
McDonald said more important, "we've got to make it stick, so we propose the action, the judge rules and the individual has a time to appeal … "
"[W]hat we're most concerned about is caring for veterans," he says, "so if someone has violated our values and we think has done bad things we move them out and that's why we have a lot of people on administrative leave —
we move them out, we don't want any harm to our veterans."
Congress and President Barack Obama
over the summer approved legislation to shorten the process for removing senior Department of Veterans Affairs executives after government reviews found VA medical centers had fudged appointment data to hide treatment delays for ailing vets.
On Thursday, McDonald noted the new law shortened the appeal process to just a few weeks —
but didn’t give him authority to terminate employees without delay.
"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, The Washington Post reports.
"Our Constitution provides for due process, and we are following the due process."
Republican lawmakers. including Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake and House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., have all accused the VA of moving too slowly in removing those responsible for the record-keeping scandal, the Post notes.
And Miller has complained
senior officials targeted in the scandal aren't truly being held accountable.
In his interview with "60 Minutes," McDonald says he's visited 35 VA locations "so the adverse information gets from the bottom to the top as quick as possible."
"People get rewarded for criticizing what we're doing. People get rewarded for bringing adverse information forward," he says.
McDonald also tells "60 Minutes" vets weren't afraid to approach him during the visits, including one woman who handed him a note.
"It says, ‘I'm from Alabama and I had to come here to Boston to get care.’ That breaks my heart," McDonald tells "60 Minutes."
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