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V.A. Secretary: '900 People Have Been Fired'

In his first Sunday show interview, VA Sec. Robert McDonald tells Chuck Todd that hundreds have been fired from the V.A. since he took over the agency.
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More than nine hundred employees in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have been fired in the past six months, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald told Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet The Press.”

“We’re making fundamental changes in the department in terms of leadership,” McDonald said. “We have held accountable about 900 employees who are no longer with us that were with us before I became secretary.”

Sixty of those who were laid off, McDonald explained, were removed because they manipulated wait times on records from medical facilities serving veterans.

McDonald was confirmed unanimously by the Senate in late July after a scandal rocked the VA, resulting in the resignation of his predecessor, Eric Shinseki.

During the interview, McDonald touted his dedication to reducing homelessness among veterans, a goal which the administration hopes to accomplish by the end of this year. He said he’s given out his personal cell phone number to augment services provided by the homelessness call center.

“We want the veterans' experience with the VA to be as good as the best private sector experiences," said McDonald, formerly the CEO of Proctor and Gamble. “Like if you took your family to Disney.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs manages a nearly $170 billion budget and runs more than 150 hospitals. In April 2014, it was revealed that at least 40 veterans had died while waiting for care at a facility operated by the VA in Phoenix, Ariz. Reports also show that long wait lists were manipulated, possibly to artificially shrink long wait times.

In his first message to the department shortly after he was sworn in last summer, McDonald highlighted his plans to eliminate employees without integrity.

“I will not tolerate those who stifle initiative, seek to punish people who raise legitimate concerns or report problems, or lack integrity in word or deed,” he said. “Trust is essential in everything we do.”

McDonald’s appearance on “Meet The Press” marks his first Sunday show interview of his tenure. The full interview airs Sunday.

- Justin Peligri