VA Fires Phoenix Hospital Director after Wait Times Scandal
The Veterans Affairs Department official most closely identified with the appointment wait-times scandal that rocked the VA starting in April was fired as the director of the Phoenix, Arizona VA Healthcare System.
Lawmakers and veterans groups have demanded the firing of Sharon Helman since whistleblowers first reported that Phoenix VA medical staff manipulated data to hide the hospital was failing to meet the needs of veterans seeking care.
The VA's Inspector General's Office concluded that the delays in care contributed to the deaths of more than 30 veterans.
"Lack of oversight and misconduct by VA leaders runs counter to our mission of serving veterans, and VA will not tolerate it," VA Secretary Bob McDonald said in a prepared statement on Monday.
McDonald has named Glenn Grippen, a former director of the VA Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as interim director of the Phoenix system. Grippen had retired from the VA in 2011 while director of the Rocky Mountain regional VA network, according to The Arizona Republic.
McDonald said he would name a new permanent director as soon as possible.
Though the IG found data manipulation of patient appointments, a systemic problem across the VA, Helman became the focus of frustration and anger from veterans' service groups and lawmakers.
Previous VA Secretary Eric Shinseki ordered Helman and other officials put on paid administrative leave shortly after news of the data manipulation and patient deaths surfaced.
Legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Obama was supposed to make it easier for the VA to terminate employees, including senior executive service members, but that has not been the case.
McDonald said VA must still provide due process before firing an employee, a view that has only continued to frustrate VA critics.
On Monday, McDonald said Helman's removal "underscores VA's commitment to hold leaders accountable and ensure that veterans have access to quality and timely care ... We depend on VA employees and leaders to put the needs of veterans first and honor VA's core values of 'Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect and Excellence.'"
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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