Two senior officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs have pleaded the Fifth Amendment in front of a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on relocation bonus corruption.
Philadelphia and Wilmington VA regional offices director Diana Rubens and St. Paul VA regional office director Kimberly Graves pleaded the Fifth and refused to answer any of the numerous questions put forward by HVAC chairman GOP Rep. [crscore]Jeff Miller[/crscore].
“Sir, I’ve been advised by counsel not to answer that question to protect my rights under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution,” Rubens repeated multiple times.
The five employees from the VA involved in the incident appeared Monday evening before HVAC under subpoena. The subpoena to appear — the first ever issued in the committee’s history — was deemed necessary because the VA did not allow the witnesses to show up to the first hearing on the subject. (RELATED: VA Officials Refuse To Appear Before Committee, Get Hit With Subpoena)
“I want to make it clear that requiring these individuals or any individual to appear before us today is not done to embarrass them as some have asserted,” Miller said Monday at the hearing. “They are here before us today because they are the subjects of this damning report, which was completed at this committee’s request.”
“This hearing is not a joke, and Ms. Rubens, despite what you reportedly told some of your employees, this is not a show,” Miller added, referring to one of the senior officials named in the report as an abuser of taxpayer funds.
Despite endless promises, the department refused to release testimony to the committee members in advance of the hearing, but on the day of the hearing, the department gave a two-sentence summary, leaving Miller furious and “sick and tired” of the department’s lack of cooperation.
An inspector general report from Sept. 28 found that two VA officials abused the relocation program to the tune of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars. To successfully take advantage of the program and receive extra money during a time of salary caps in the department, the two officials pushed subordinates out from their positions and subsequently applied for those newly open positions, so that they could then receive generous expense accounts during the move, in addition to bonus incentive funds.
The inspector general referred criminal charges for Rubens Graves to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Columbia.
Rubens and Graves received more than $400,000 taxpayer dollars for relocation expenses.
After the report was released, Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey retired, as she was named in the report as facilitating the relocation. Hickey did not respond to Miller’s request to appear before the hearing as a private citizen. (RELATED: Top VA Benefits Official Steps Down Two Years After Legislators Call For Resignation)
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