President Trump Signs VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Bill CSPAN June 23, 2017 6:28pm-6:58pm EDT
week on c-span2, online at cspan.org, and on the free -span radio app. >> c-span, where history unfolds daily. in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies. and is brought to you today by your cable or satellite rovider. >> president trump signed a law today that makes it easier for the veterans affairs department to fire employees for wrongdoing and adds protections for whistleblowers in the v.a. the "washington times" writes that the white house ceremony was
attended by dozens of veterans, family members and lawmakers. among them was retired -- [applause] >> it's a full house. that's great.
on behalf of the president, i want to welcome everybody here today. i have the great privilege of introducing one of the nation's heroes. let me tell but sergeant michael veraardo. he was deployed to afghanistan 82nd airborne. this was not an easy assignment. this was really dangerous work. mr. shulkin: in fact, 37 of the men that sergeant verardo served with didn't return home. it was in 2010 that he was severely injured in an i.e.d. blast. he lost an arm, a leg and 40% of his body had burns over it. he wasn't expected to survive the medical flight. but he did. fortunately. thanks to really what may be described as a miracle and certainly the support of his amazing wife, sara.
110 surgeries and years of therapy, michael's able to join us here today. and it's veterans like michael that are the reason the v.a. exists. it's why when i had the privilege of sitting in my office not too long ago with michael and sara, talking about their experience, that it was really heartbreaking for me to hear their story. because the v.a. had failed michael. he had to jump through one bureaucratic hoop after another, just to try to get the services he deserved and he had earned. in one situation he had to wait 57 days just to get his prosthetic leg fixed. he had to wait 3 1/2 years to be able to get the type of adaptions for his home that he needed to be able to live comfortably in his home. i'm pleased to say he's waiting no longer. unfortunately michael's story isn't unique.
and that's the reason why we're so focused on fixing the v.a. and reforming the v.a. the president and i are committed to fixing the v.a. and tackling the challenges that have been within the v.a. system for decades. millions of veterans like michael and their families are counting on us. so today we're here to celebrate an important step towards that reform of the v.a. i'm thrilled that michael and his wife, sara, are here with us today. they have two daughters in their home in north carolina and i think as you'll see, expecting another very soon. michael and sara, thank you for your service and sacrifice. you inspire all of us to do better. ladies and gentlemen, please welcome sergeant michael verardo and sara. [applause]
>> i am truly honored and humbled to be speaking here today. for as long as i can remember, i wanted to serve my country. and in the summer of 2009, i had the privilege of deploying as an infantryman with the 82nd airborne to afghanistan. i prepared myself for the worst. death and dismemberment. on april 24, 2010, i stepped on an improvised explosive device that caused life-altering injuries. my long road home has included over 100 surgeries.
and years of speech, visual, physical and occupation altherrpies. i knew that such injuries were a risk of the enlistment that i made. what i was not prepared for was coming home to a broken v.a. system. mr. verardo: i wasn't prepared to wait 57 days for a signature on a piece of pape sore my only prosthetic limb could be repaired. i wasn't prepared to be asked to make a three-hour round trip so that just last year they could check to see if i still had my serious combat injuries. i wasn't prepared to watch my wife beg, plead and make countless phone calls so that i could receive what was often basic and necessary medical care. but today is a new day. and this administration has filled its -- fulfilled its promise that the veteran is empowered and the veteran is in charge of his or her own care. under the previous administration, i waited over 3 1/2 years for adaptive changes
to be made so i could safely reside in my own home. under president trump, with the assistance of secretary shulkin, these changes were made within weeks. today our president, donald trump, will sign this important bill into law that will ensure real accountability for our nation's veterans. dr. shulkin will be empowered to ensure that the v.a. adheres to the standard of excellence it promotes. and that the employees at the v.a. are the ones that have a servant's heart for those that have worn our nation's uniform. the most difficult part of my war injuries were coming home to such a broken system. thank you, president trump, and secretary shulkin, for ensuring that we are not forgotten. and that we will receive the care we need and deserve. thank you. [applause]
mr. shulkin: thank you, michael and sara. i want you to know, you're the reason why we're working night and day to make sure that we get this system working better. and we're not going to stop until we do better for families like yourses. a few week ago i was here at the white house and i had the chance to deliver a talk on the state of the v.a. and in those remarks i talked about 13 risks that v.a. faces in its reform. one of those was accountability. veterans deserve an organization that they can trust, that provides the highest quality services. employees who act contrary to our core values erode that trust. and there's nothing more demoralizing to our work force and to veterans when v.a. is forced to take employees back who have deviated from those values. i've talked about examples of
employees who had three driving under the influence arrests. employees that, taking care of veterans while watching pornography. and a system that allows this is clearly broken. we won't be able to accomplish any of the reforms that we need to in the v.a. if we don't get the right people in place. the veterans affairs accountability and whistleblower protection act is going to make it easier and quicker for us to hold our employees accountable, while protecting our employees' rights to due process. the bill also gives us the additional flexibilities when it comes to hiring. it dramatically reduces the time that it takes to be able to put strong leaders in place in these important positions. i want to thank the members of congress that are here today. this was a bipartisan effort. this was your leadership that allowed this to happen. and of course the president will be able to sign this because of
the work that you've done. i also want to thank our veterans service organizations who are in the audience today. because your constant support to do the right thing for our veteran is so important for us. over these past few months we've accomplished a lot at v.a. we've dramatically expanded access. we've published all of our wait times so that our veterans can see what the times are. we've reduced our times to processing disability claims -- to process disability claims. we've processed the president's white house hotline. we made decisions that are important in modernizing the v.a. one of those was to replace our electronic medical record, to share one with the department of defense. and we started to modernize our facilities in getting rid of vacant and underutilized properties. e've also reduced regulations.
and we've taken important steps to reduce veteran suicides. we've expanded mental health providers. and we've also expanded coverage to other than honorable veterans who have been discharged. i want to thank president trump for his leadership and determination to fix the v.a. the president knows we have to do better for our veterans. and so it's actually a great honor today that the president will sign the veterans affairs accountability and whistleblower protection act. i have the pleasure today of introducing the biggest champion, veterans could hope for. under his leadership and unwavering support, v.a.'s been moving to solve many of these challenges that have been spanning multiple administrations over decades. veterans deserve a v.a. that they can trust and take pride in. v.a.'s a national resource that must be protected in order to serve veterans and the families for generations to come.
president trump understands this. and knows that in order to fix the v.a., we need to modernize our systems, improve access and deliver the highest quality of care and services. today is no doubt a great day for veteran, for families and the vast majority of v.a. employees who want nothing more than to give back to those who have sacrificed so much. mr. president, thank you for your leadership and unwavering support for veterans. so it is with great pride that
i introduce the 45th president of the united states, donald trump. [applause]
president trump: thank you very uch. thank you very much. that's really greatly appreciated. and thank you to secretary shulkin for that introduction and for your really tireless efforts, david. to protect those who have really been protecting all of us for so long. during great, -- great, great people. and you know what i'm talking about, right? congratulations. in just a short time we've already achieved transformative change at the v.a. and believe me, we're just getting started. we have so many people that have been so helpful right here in the room. tom and all my friends. it's been fantastic. the enthusiasm for the veterans
administration and for making it right for our great veterans has been incredible. i want to thank all of them. one of my greatest honors and joys during the presidential campaign was the time i spent going all across the country with our nation's really and truly incredible veterans. their courage, their dignity and their selfless sacrifice, they represent the very best of us. our veteran have fulfilled their duty to this nation and now we must fulfill our duty to them. so to every veteran who is here with us today, i just want to say two very simple words. thank you. thank you. [applause] you are the warriors and heroes who have won our freedom and we
will never forget what you have done for all of us. ever. as you all know, all too well, for many years the government failed to keep its promises to our veteran. we all remember the nightmare that veterans suffered during the v.a. scandals that were expose at few years ago -- exposed a few years ago. veterans were put on secret wait lists. given the wrong medication. given the bad treatments. and ignored in moments of crisis for them. many veterans died waiting for a simple doctor's appointment. what happened was a national disgrace. and yet some of the employees involved in these scandals emained on the payrolls.
outdated laws kept the government from holding those who failed our veterans accountable. today we are finally changing those laws. it wasn't easy but we did have some fantastic help. to make sure that the scandal of what we suffered so recently never, ever happens again. and that our veterans can get the care they so richly deserve. o you just heard from sergeant michael fe -- verardo. great. i didn't get to shake your hand, michael. get up, michael. [applause] he gets up better than i do. [laughter] thank you, michael. michael lost two limbs.
in defending our country. and yet he had to wait 57 days to get his prosthetic leg repaired, it's a long time, michael. and over 3 1/2 years for modifications to make his house more accessible. what happened to michael is happening to many. but it's rarely happening under our leadership and david's leadership anymore. that i can tell you. our wounded warriors have given everything they have to this nation. and we owe them everything we have in return. and we're taking care of it. today we are taking a very historic action to transform the .a. by enacting the v.a. accountability and whistleblower protection act. this was not easy. this was not an easy one. and it's one that they've wanted
to do, michael, you know for a long time. for many years. couldn't get it done. we got it done. this is one of the largest reforms to the v.a. in its history. it's a reform that i campaigned on and now i am thrilled to be able to sign that promise into law. v.a. accountability is essential to making sure that our veterans are treated with the respect they have so richly earned through their blood, sweat and tears. this law will finally give the v.a. secretary, who is, by the way, just doing some job and he's doing it with this and with the heart. [applause] elieve me. it gives -- it gives the secretary the authority to remove federal employees who
fail and endanger our veterans and to do so quickly and effectively. it's been a long time since you've heard those words. those entrusted with the sacred duty of serving our veterans will be held accountable for the care they provide. it's a big statement. at the same time this bill protects whistleblowers who do the right thing. we want to reward, cherish and promote the many dedicated employees at the v.a. this legislation also gives the v.a. secretary the authority to appoint new medical directors at v.a. hospitals. something which was almost impossible to do in the past. and these are going to be talented, talented people. i applaud chairman phil roe and the members of congress here
with us today, which we have many, who fought so hard for this legislation. i want them up here when i sign. i just want to thank the members of congress. they have been really dedicated to getting this done. was not easy for them either. [applause] thank you, thank you, thank you, everybody. very sincere gratitude as well to the veterans service organizations who have joined us for this tremendous occasion and for everything they do for the veterans and for so long, they have been fighting for this and other things so long. by the way, other things are happening. we've done a lot, this is a big one. we have a lot of good ones coming. i also want to express our appreciation for secretary shulkin who is implementing the
dramatic reforms throughout the v.a. got to be implemented. if it's not properly implemented,
it will never mean the same thing. but i have no doubt it will be properly implemented. right, david? better be, david. [applause] [laughter] we'll never have to use those words around david. we will never use those words on you. that's for sure. [laughter] that one never fails, does it? since my first day in office, we've taken one action after another to ensure our veterans, and make sure, have to make sure that they get world class care. and the kind of care that they've been promised by so many different people for so many
years. we've created a new office of accountability at the v.a., which will empower and really has been empowered by this legislation. we've launched a new website that publishes wait times at every v.a. hospital. we've delivered same-day mental health service at all 168 v.a. medical centers. that's a big operation when you think of it. we've announced that the v.a. will finally solve a problem that has plagued our government for decades. seamlessly transferring veterans' medical records from the department of defense to the department of veterans affairs. [applause] that doesn't sound like such a big deal. it is. believe me. that was a big one. we thought this would be easy.
but the people like david and all that have been here and understand the system, he said, that's going to be a tough one. we got it done. so that was a good one. but it is something we're very proud of. to have been able to do it this quickly. i've also signed the veterans choice improvement act, so that more veterans can see the doctor of their choice. already this year using the choice program, veterans have received nearly double the number of approvals to see the doctor of their choosing. and this is only the beginning. we will not rest until the job 100% complete for our great veterans. [applause] we can all be inspired by the story of a retired air force veteran named earl morris. who served as a physician's
assistant at the v.a. centers in ohio and indiana. 13 years ago earl began asking his patients if they planned to visit new world war ii memorial, which is beautiful, right here in washington, d.c. nearly all said they planned to visit. but when he saw these patients at their next appointment, almost none of them had made the trip. one day he had an idea. earl is a private pilot. he asked one of his patients, who was a world war ii veteran, if he could fly with him to the memorial. he was so honored to do it. the 80-year-old veteran wept, openly cried. he never imagined he would see that beautiful monument to his service. that is how first honor flight
was born. honor flight. very beautiful thing. since then, over 100,000 veterans have been greeted with tears of gratitude as they arrived in our nation's capital. we want all of american veterans, all of them, every one of them, to experience and to at least have the opportunity to experience that same gratitude every time they walk into the v.a. that's what today is all about. keeping our promises to those us ave kept us free, kept happy. saved our lives and saved our families. so i just want to thank you, our incredible veterans. we stand with you, we salute you, and with this new legislation we strive to better
[captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2017] >> sunday on q&a, -- >> i was a reporter, i covered politics and i got interested in political power. these books. first moses power in cities, urban power. lyndon johnson, national power. studies in political power. but i thought, you know, when you're roorper, i won a couple of really minor journalistic awards. when you win an award, whatever i was, 24, you think you know everything. the first time robert moses started talking to me, i
realized i didn't know anything about power at all. >> robert caro talks about his auto project. looking at the evolution and exercise of political power in america. and he hears his progress on the next volume of his multipart biography of lyndon johnson. >> he had compassion from the beginning. but i wrote in the book, ambition was the overriding consideration with him. it was only when compassion and ambition coincided, when he was in the senate he realized if he want it's to be president, he has to pay the civil rights bill, that he really turns to this. then you say, was he feeling false? not at all. because all his life he had wanted to help poor people and particularly poor people of color. >> sunday night at 8:00 eastern on c-span's q&a. >> for the next hour, an american history tv exclusive. our cities tour