VA Still Hasn’t Fired Anyone Over Manipulated Wait Time Scandal

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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After all the promises of accountability and proclamations of firings, new internal documents reveal that the Department of Veterans Affairs hasn’t fired any employees as a result of the manipulated wait time scandal in Phoenix.

Documents from the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) show that out of 280,000 employees, the VA punished 8: five reprimanded, one fired, one retired before firing, and termination is pending for another, The New York Times reports.

However, the one fired, director Sharon Helman of the Phoenix hospital, was actually terminated over receiving inappropriate gifts. While Helman was intimately involved in the scandal, the reason for her termination was not directly related. This means that no one has technically been fired based on direct involvement in the Phoenix scandal. One case is still pending.

The numbers are a far cry from those cited by VA secretary Robert McDonald in February. At the time, he claimed that the department fired 60 people involved in the wait time scandal. After the interview, the department quickly released a clarifying statement: in fact, 14 were removed from their positions and 60 were punished.

The VA did not dispute the new numbers dug up by The New York Times of just three employees fired, electing to say that 100 employees still await disciplinary action. According to the department, “V.A. is committed to holding employees accountable for misconduct.”

Legislators remain unconvinced at endless promises.

“It seems to me that if you want to send a message that wrongdoers are going to be held accountable, you actually have to hold one accountable,” Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice stated at a hearing earlier in April.

Those unsatisfied in Congress also point to the fact that the VA refuses to throw support behind numerous accountability bills introduced by members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. (RELATED: VA Refuses To Support Numerous Bills Requiring Accountability)

Calls for accountability from Congress still fall on deaf ears at the department. To remedy the problem, HVAC chairman Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida on Thursday is introducing new legislation, the V.A. Accountability Act, to accelerate firings at the department. According to Miller, the VA has all sorts of ways of transferring and reassigning employees, instead of simply disciplining or firing them for wrongdoing.

McDonald says the authority to expeditiously remove employees already exists, but the real problem is that the department needs time to gather concrete evidence.

While the department keeps itself busy with internal procedures, top officials at the Phoenix VA hospital still collect salaries, despite being put on leave.

“It is outrageous that the Obama Administration has not held people accountable for manipulating wait times in VA hospitals after promising to take action against those implicated in the scandal,” Texas Governor Rick Perry said in a statement. “We owe so much to the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our nation, and it is imperative we do better to ensure that our nation’s heroes get the care and treatment they rightfully deserve.”

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