Veterans entrusting their care to the federal government in Puerto Rico can count one more felon among their caretakers. Edwin Trinidad Nieves is a health aide at the Caribbean Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital, where a management official in charge of vetting candidates is also a convicted sex offender.
Trinidad was convicted in 2009 of intentional child abuse and felony lewd acts with a vulnerable person, according to the Puerto Rico sex offender registry, which lists the VA hospital as his employer.
Nieves was hired by the hospital about two years later. The registry does not say what his punishment was, but sentencing guidelines for that crime call for three to eight years in prison, with the possibility of serving only 60 percent of the term. Under that timeline, he would have been hired by the federal government immediately after his release from prison.
Nieves was convicted of using a position of authority to take advantage of a victim. As a health aide and technician, he cares for veterans who are sometimes also vulnerable.
Hospital spokesman Axel Roman provided no explanation for how or why this felon was hired, just as with previous similar incidents. But the hospital has felons in management, and that has led to the union arguing that excluding felons would be unfair.
The VA knows that unions and individual workers latch on to precedents, with one bad thing quickly spawning, but it still doesn’t nip these issues in the bud. For example, it routinely doesn’t discipline people who commit wrongdoing; then, when it wanted to punish high-profile execs Diana Rubens, a court said the fact that VA hadn’t bothered to discipline others before meant that it was actively barred from doing so now.
As VA’s employment has swelled past 300,000, the agency designed to serve veterans appears to have taken on a secondary mission to provide employment to those who have difficulty finding gainful employment elsewhere.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union has argued that the VA should provide jobs for blacks, arguing that hiring nurses without college degrees would help that cause. Such a policy would ostensibly lower quality of care.
The union has also argued that firing VA employees guilty of misconduct is racist because 70 percent of the department’s workforce are minorities.
At the Puerto Rico hospital, the focus seems to be on criminals hiring and protecting other criminals instead. Tito Santiago Martinez, a human resources official there who is also a convicted sex offender has said “there’s no children in [the hospital], so they figure I could not harm anyone here.” The employees union uses his status as leverage to keep rank-and-file employees who run into trouble with the law on the job.
Dewayne Hamlin, the hospital’s top official, was arrested at 3am on suspicion of DUI and found with painkillers for which he had no prescription. He is not a doctor, and diversion of VA hospital drugs to recreational uses is a serious problem nationwide.
Braxton Linton is in charge of buying prosthetics such as hearing aids, which is one of the largest purchasing operations in the federal government. Many of such purchases use government credit cards, even though the prosthetics division nationwide was exposed by its top executive, Jan Frye, as fraud-ridden.
Linton was hired by the VA almost immediately after being released from federal prison for credit card theft. He stole $80,000 using information taken from his last employer. Since he began working at the VA, Linton has been re-arrested numerous times for drugs. National and local VA spokesmen have ignored repeated requests to explain his hiring was permitted under federal personnel rules.
Elizabeth Rivera took part in a late-night armed robbery, but the hospital gave her time off to serve a jail sentence, and she resumed working in the security office while wearing a GPS monitor required for her probation. A top VA official who could not justify those actions falsely told Congress Rivera had been fired.
Spokesman Axel Roman said in reference to that case that “Criminal prosecution or conviction for off-duty misconduct does not automatically disqualify an individual from federal employment. The administrative discipline process for poor performance or misconduct on the job, operates distinctly from the administrative process associated with off-the-job misconduct. Accordingly, one is not necessarily impacted by the other.”
Last month, another employee at the hospital who had been hired despite possessing illegal guns was killed in a gunfight linked to drug dealing. He was armed at the time but was unable to use his illegal weapon to defend himself.
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