The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has commenced disciplinary action against a drunk nurse who operated on a veteran, but what officials didn’t say is that it will take almost an entire year of administrative procedure to actually punish the nurse.
Officials confirmed to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs it will take no less than 270 days to punish Richard J. Pieri, the 59-year-old nurse who was charged with reckless endangerment, driving under the influence and being drunk in public, according to an email obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Pieri operated on a veteran after he had chugged back at least four or five beers while at the Mohegan Sun Pocono casino.
“I wish I had an easier answer but I do not,” a VA official said in the email.
“The minimum amount of time that it takes is 270 days from the date of issuance of the proposed major adverse action, but it takes time to gather the evidence and write the proposal notice prior to its issuance,” the official continued. “Extensions of these timelines are often granted during the reply period to the proposal notice and during the appeal process, at the appellant’s request, in order to ensure the appellant’s due process is not violated so as to cause a 3rd party to overturn the decision in federal court.”
How it works is that the agency has to collect all evidence of the misconduct. This takes time, and depending on how complex the situation is, it may take longer than expected. Investigators need to go through witness statements, collect videotapes and other physical evidence. Management then needs to prepare and send a proposal notice. Once the employee receives the document, timelines start kicking in to play.
Then comes the bureaucratic nightmare. First, the employee, if full-time, gets 30 days advanced written notice about the disciplinary proposal. This period is followed by a “reasonable amount of time to submit a written reply and/or present an oral reply.”
The minimum amount of time for this period is seven days. Extensions are possible if good cause is present.
Once the VA receives the employee’s response, the department has 21 days to reply. Employees are allowed to file an appeal in 30 days once they receive the decision.
At this point, there’s a huge time gap. A disciplinary appeals board will have 120 days to hold a hearing. After the hearing concludes with a report, either the under secretary for health or principal deputy under secretary for health has 90 days to look over the report and provide a decision to the employee who appealed.
GOP Rep. Jeff Miller has offered an alternative to the department’s byzantine disciplinary process, but the VA has opposed the legislation at every turn. The bill, called the VA Accountability Act, provides Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald with the authority to kick out employees for poor performance or misconduct. The bill passed in the House in July 2015 but has stalled in the Senate.
“Almost every day we are reminded that the federal civil service system is designed to coddle and protect corrupt and incompetent employees and that the Obama administration’s refusal to address this dysfunctional status quo is doing real harm to veterans and taxpayers,” Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, told TheDCNF in a statement. “The latest installment in this depressing saga is VA’s confirmation that it will take nearly a year at a minimum to discipline Pieri for something he’s already admitted to.”
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