Congress is furious at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for refusing to discipline employees over misconduct and fudging the numbers to make it appear as though the agency is committed to real accountability.
The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing Wednesday to examine the department’s record on accountability for the entire year.
The hearing did not get off to a good start. Chairman Rep. [crscore]Jeff Miller[/crscore] blasted VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson for submitting one statement in advance of the event and presenting a completely different one Wednesday.
“Quite honestly, I think the tone of your statement proves why we are so disappointed with the lack of accountability at VA because it illustrates that the department and its senior leaders still refuse to take responsibility for the corrosive culture plaguing VA,” Miller says.
The VA’s employee disciplinary record is atrocious. Miller provided a small list of some of the most noxious examples.
In Louisiana, a VA nursing assistant is charged with manslaughter. At first, VA officials tried to brush off the death as accidental. A coroner contradicted their findings, resulting in legal charges. However, that employee has remained on paid leave for two years since December 2013.
The VA has not successfully disciplined a single employee in Phoenix as a result of the wait-time manipulation scandal.
Although the department tried to remove Sharon Helman, the director of the Phoenix VA medical center, the attempt failed. The Merit Systems Protection Board found the VA didn’t even try to determine whether Helman was responsible for waitlist issues. In fact, the only reason the VA managed to remove Helman was because she also happened to engage in unethical behavior by accepting inappropriate gifts. However, two other senior officials closely involved in management at Phoenix remain on paid leave.
“We are wrapping up those two cases right now,” Gibson says.
Rep. [crscore]Tim Huelskamp[/crscore] explodes, saying, “A year and a half. We’ve waited long enough. After a year and a half, it’s time to do the job.”
“We waited too long, and we’re not going to do it again,” Gibson responds. “It’s unacceptable.”
Despite the fact that the Denver hospital has run a billion dollars over budget, the VA has not held a single employee responsible through discipline.
Officials responsible for the project received major bonuses, instead, and the VA continually refuses to release the results of an investigation to Congress on this issue.
In West Virginia at the Martinsburg VA medical center, the department declined to appropriately discipline an employee who dealt heroin off-site. (RELATED: VA Refuses To Terminate Employees Who Have Sex In Office, High On Cocaine During Work)
Like in the case of Phoenix, the VA again botched action against executives who fraudulently abused taxpayer funds. The proposed demotion of Kimberly Graves and Diana Rubens failed because the VA neglected to provide a crucial binder of evidence to Graves and Rubens. As Miller noted, the VA’s failure is especially ironic because Gibson personally admonished him in two letters, saying that the committee’s work may damage the case against Graves and Rubens. But the damage didn’t come from the committee. It came from right inside the VA. (RELATED: OOPS: VA Accidentally Ruined Attempt To Demote Corrupt Executives Rubens And Graves)
An inspector general report found that Graves and Rubens pressured subordinates out of their positions, so that Graves and Rubens could step into those roles and fraudulently collect $400,000 worth of relocation benefits. The VA has refused to fire Graves and Rubens and similarly refused to pursue recollection of those bonuses. (RELATED: VA Refuses To Take Back Fraudulently-Obtained Bonuses, So This Rep Introduced A Bill To Do Just That)
Gibson says Graves and Rubens used less than sound judgment, but says he was baffled at the criminal referral the inspector general made to the Department of Justice.
“It is incomprehensible to me that they made that referral,” Gibson says.
Gibson slams the inspector general for “unfounded rhetoric that creates an unfounded expectation which does a distinct disservice to taxpayers and to the veterans.”
This criticism astounds Miller.
“Obviously, to this day, there is no real acceptance of responsibility for VA’s continued and pervasive failure to seriously discipline its employees and it seems as if there is no serious effort to change that,” Miller says.
Meanwhile, the VA is busy scrounging up inaccurate numbers to present to Congress on employee accountability. VA Secretary Robert McDonald claimed in February the department fired 60 employees for manipulating wait-time data. The Washington Post determined this claim is completely false. Undeterred, McDonald recently said in November at the National Press Club that 300 employees had been disciplined for scheduling manipulation. But the real number is only 27, and according to VA staff, some of those listed as being disciplined for wait-time manipulation had nothing to do with manipulation at all. (RELATED: VA Sec States Falsehood And Then Says People Need To Fact-Check Claims About The VA)
“The department publicly continues to tout inflated numbers of those it has held accountable but then those numbers don’t square with the truth,” Miller says.
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