The American Legion, the largest veterans’ service organization in the country, slammed a judicial appeal board for consecutively saving the careers of three questionable executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
For the last couple of months, the VA has desperately tried to fire three executives, only to be rebuffed time and again by the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), an independent agency ostensibly designed to protect federal employees from agency abuses.
“The burden of proof needed to discipline a VA employee, or any employee for that matter, should not be the same as what is required to send an accused murderer to death row,” said American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett in a statement Tuesday.
“VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson should be commended for attempting to remove the director of the Albany, N.Y., VA medical center because he felt that she created an environment that was unsafe for veterans,” Barnett added. “This is just a week after the MSPB ruled that two senior VA officials in Pennsylvania and Minnesota could not be demoted, even after the VA’s own IG report found that they inappropriately manipulated the agency’s relocation system for personal gain.”
While Gibson was pushing to demote executives Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves, he did not actually admit that they engaged in any wrongdoing. Instead, he simply said they used questionable judgment in forcing subordinates out of their positions so that they could then fill them and accept generous relocation benefits with limited responsibilities.
A fair hearing is a normal part of the disciplinary process, Barnett said, but the burden of proof should be dropped to match the level that exists in the private sector. In other words, if Rubens and Graves would have been disciplined or fired in the private sector, the same should be true at the VA, and the MSPB should cooperate. For Barnett, that the MSPB has not denied the appeals of the three executives is tantamount to putting veterans at further risk, since it communicates to officials that they won’t face even as much as a “slap on the wrist” for abhorrent behavior.
Earlier this week, the MSPB upheld the appeal of Linda Weiss, the third executive in recent months to go before the board. She formerly served as head of the VA Albany Stratton medical center in New York. Even though she won her appeal, Gibson took pains to assure veterans that despite her success before the board, she will not be allowed to return to her former post or to serve as a director at any other facility.
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