VA Uses New Rules Under ‘VA Accountability Act’ to Fire Executive for Second Time

US Secretary of Veterans Affairs David J. Shulkin
US Secretary of Veterans Affairs, VA David J. Shulkin / Getty Images
• September 20, 2017 3:16 pm


Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials fired a former director of its Washington, D.C. medical center for the second time this year after Congress enacted new authorities.

The VA announced in a statement Wednesday that Hawkins had been terminated for a second time, the Washington Times reported. Brian Hawkins was fired from his executive position in July, but reinstated by the Merit Systems Protection Board. The department initially took steps to fire the director because the VA center run by Hawkins was plagued by supply problems and unsanitary conditions stemming from years of mismanagement. Hawkins, however, appealed the ruling by using federal employment laws. When he was reinstated by the protection board, VA Secretary David Shulkin moved him to an administrative position outside of patient care.

"No judge who has never run a hospital and never cared for our nation’s veterans will force me to put an employee back in a position when he allowed the facility to pose potential safety risks to our Veterans," Shulkin said at the time.

Shulkin assisted Congress in passing the new legislation, working to rewrite the rules that initially protected Hawkins and other underperforming employees. President Donald Trump signed the "VA Accountability Act" into law in June.

"We at VA will use the authorities available to ensure our veterans get the highest quality service and care possible," Shulkin said about Hawkins’ second firing. "This is the right decision for veterans in D.C., and employees at the medical center, and underscores our commitment to hold employees accountable if they fail to do their jobs or live up to VA’s values."

Shulkin has garnered bipartisan praise for his aggressive stance toward reform of the VA, which can now reprimand and even fire senior executives through a procedure that takes 21 days, instead of the previous timeline that was over 50 days. First appointed by former President Barack Obama, and then promoted to the department secretary by Trump, the secretary has a reputation for nonpartisanship and commitment to veterans above political concerns.

"What motivates me and what motivates Dr. Shulkin is the same, to provide the best care to veterans," chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee Rep. Phil Roe (R., Tenn.) said. "I don't know whether he's a Republican or Democrat, and I could care less."

The VA notified Hawkins in late August of its intent to again fire him. It took action following an Inspector General's new report that revealed Hawkins had emailed about sensitive medical information on unsecured accounts.

Shulkin commented on the decision to use the new rules to remove Hawkins, calling it "the right decision for veterans in D.C. and employees at the medical center."

The VA’s new authorities have been used to fire other employees, but none as high-profile as Hawkins, the Military Times reported. Hawkins and his attorneys have not commented publicly on whether he will appeal again.

Published under: Congress, Veterans, Veterans Affairs