WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs revealed on Wednesday several hundred employee firings that had not been publicly reported.
The revised tally matches comments made by President Donald Trump during his State of the Union address. Trump said more than 1,500 VA employees had been fired since he signed new accountability legislation last summer.
Military Times on Tuesday night reported that Trump had exaggerated that number, citing VA’s own statistics on its website. On Wednesday, the VA said Trump’s figure included about 700 probationary dismissals not previously publicly reported.
During his address to Congress on Tuesday, Trump listed several veterans policy accomplishments among his administration’s most notable work of the past year. That included sweeping new rules for the hiring and firing of VA workers, which Republicans on Capitol Hill had sought for several years.
“Last year, the Congress passed, and I signed, the landmark VA Accountability Act,” Trump told lawmakers at the event. “Since its passage, my administration has already removed more than 1,500 VA employees who failed to give our veterans the care they deserve, and we are hiring talented people who love our vets as much as we do.”
VA officials have publicly posted all employee firing, demotion and suspension data online since last July. Those reports showed 1,046 worker removals since mid-June, after the new legislation was signed.
But on Wednesday, following questions about Trump’s speech assertions, VA spokesman Curt Cashour said the firing total should include 691 probationary dismissals not previously made public by the department.
Including those new firings would bring the total number of VA workers fired since the bill’s signing to more than 1,700 individuals.
Official accountability reports posted weekly on the department’s website do not include any information about firings of workers during their initial probationary period. Cashour said starting Thursday, those dismissals will also be included in the weekly report updates.
“In the interest of transparency and to provide the most accurate picture of VA’s total firings, we have decided to include them in our public tally going forward,” he said.
VA officials have touted transparency as a key to department reforms throughout the last year, and said listing of employee firings would help inform broader debate about accountability and cultural changes at VA.
In a separate statement following the speech, VA Secretary David Shulkin praised Trump for helping guide “the largest transformation and modernization effort in decades” at the department, adding that officials are now “tackling head-on issues that have lingered for years, including accountability, whistleblower protection, improving transparency and customer service.”
Federal unions have been critical of the accountability bill, saying it unfairly targets lower-level workers and has limited effectiveness in changing the culture of VA. But Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have praised the legislation as an overdue tool for rooting out poor-performing workers.
For comparison, in the five months before the accountability bill signing, 995 VA workers were fired, including 474 employees in their probationary period whose dismissals were not previously made public.
Cashour said firings at the department were up nearly 27 percent from 2016 to 2017, with nearly all of the difference coming in dismissals of employees who had already completed their probationary review.
Also in the State of the Union speech, Trump vowed that he would continue pressing lawmakers and VA officials for additional reforms.
“I will not stop until our veterans are properly taken care of, which has been my promise to them from the very beginning of this great journey,” he said.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.