"With the creation of this office, we are sending a strong message: Those who fail our veterans will be held, for the first time, accountable", Trump said at the VA before signing an executive order to create the office.
The executive order also creates a task force to search for fraud and waste at the VA.
Shulkin also said that the the new office will create a new level of accountability for agency employees while also ensuring "that we're honoring the commitment we have to our whistleblowers that come forth and identify issues, so that there's not a retaliation against them". Among other things, Shulkin said, the new office will advise him on disciplining poor-performing employees.
"He's asking through his executive order for VA to do everything that it can internally", Shulkin said at a White House briefing on Wednesday.
In 2014, as many as 40 veterans died as they spent months waiting for appointments at the VA medical center in Phoenix.
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The order, Shulkin said, allows the department to "identify barriers that are preventing us from moving employees and people that we have identified that should no longer be working at VA".
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There's been a broad, bipartisan push for employment-conduct reforms at VA for years, as stories of veteran-care backlogs, patient neglect, and personal greed have graced news headlines and politicians' stump speeches.
"While a new Office of Accountability will be a positive step toward fixing the toxic VA culture, it won't be enough", Mark Lucas, executive director of the Koch Brothers-backed advocacy group Concerned Veterans For America, told T&P in a statement. Shulkin said there could be "substantial" cost, but he didn't have an estimate.
While President Donald Trump's budget blueprint calls for a 6 percent increase in VA funding, the memo indicated that the government's second largest agency with almost 370,000 employees was no different from other departments that needed to improve "efficiency, effectiveness and accountability" and left open the possibility of "near-term" and "long-term workforce reductions".
Shulkin, who served in the Obama-era VA before being named department secretary by Trump, has been particularly bullish on increasing agency firing authority over VA employees, many of whom are unionized.
It did not take long for the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs to figure out there was something seriously wrong with conditions at the VA medical center in the District.
"The president did make that commitment and we are hard at work to establish that hotline", said Shulkin, a physician himself. He immediately relieved the facility's director of his duties and installed one of his close advisers, Lawrence Connell, as acting director to make sure the problems were fixed.