VA Backs Off Boss' Claim 60 Employees Fired Over Wait-Times Scandal
The Veterans Affairs Department on Tuesday backed away from a claim made by its chief executive on Sunday that 60 employees who falsified patient data have been fired since he took over the agency in late July.
"We've got 60 people that we fired for manipulating wait times," VA Secretary Bob McDonald told NBC's "Meet the Press."
But pressed for details on the 60 on Tuesday the VA press office told Military.com that the number includes a range of disciplinary actions, including official demotions, reprimands and admonishments as well as terminations.
"VA has proposed disciplinary action related to data manipulation or patient care against more than 60 employees nationwide," the VA statement said.
Documents acquired by Military.com indicate that from June 3, 2014, through February 12, 2015, 10 employees were fired, four were permitted to resign or retire in lieu of being terminated, four had their probationary employment terminated, three were demoted, eight suspended for periods ranging from less than two weeks to 50 days, a dozen given admonishments and five were reprimanded.
The documents indicated that another 10 employees currently face removal.Overall, McDonald said, VA has removed for cause about 900 employees since he took over the agency in late July, though the documents acquired by Military.com include only completed or pending disciplinary actions related to the wait-times scandal that has rocked the VA since last April.
VA investigators -- following up on whistleblowers reports that patients died waiting for appointments at the VA Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona -- found that manipulation of appointment dates, scheduling delays and falsified records were systemic problems across the department.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned his post at the end of May.
Since June, the VA has installed new leaders at 91 percent of its medical facilities, some moved into acting roles and others installed as new, permanent executives, according to officials.
Citing new authority that Congress granted McDonald to quickly terminate the employment of senior executives, the VA said it has so far removed five officials from the job.
But two of those were allowed to retire before the axe fell, which has frustrated lawmakers and veterans' advocates who believe there should be more serious consequences for officials who betrayed the trust of veterans and their families.
"Although I believe Secretary McDonald is sincere in his efforts to change VA's culture, the department's transformation won't be complete until employees at all levels understand there are tangible consequences for mismanagement and negligence that harms veterans," Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, said in a statement on Wednesday.
Instilling a climate of accountability at VA will only be achieved through actions, not words, said Miller, who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
Whatever the current number of employees fired or in line for firing, the number is likely to change over the next several months.
In December the department set itself a July deadline for recommending administrative or disciplinary action against employees who falsified data or otherwise manipulated patient appointments, including those that caused delays leading to veteran deaths.
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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