VA Firing Three Top Officials at Phoenix VA Hospital
Three top officials at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, are being targeted for removal.
VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson on Tuesday identified the three as Associate Director Lance Robinson, Chief of Health Administration Service Brad Curry, and hospital Chief of Staff Dr. Darren Deering.
The Phoenix VA became ground central to the wait-times scandal that eventually revealed that officials across the VA system were hiding their inability to meet appointment standards by keeping secret lists of veterans seeking care.
"It is vitally important to veterans in Phoenix and across the nation to understand that we will take appropriate accountability action as warranted by the evidence," Gibson said in a statement. "Frankly, I am disappointed that it took as long as it did for proposed actions to be made, but I am satisfied that we carefully reviewed a massive amount of evidence to ensure the accountability actions are supported."
The VA did not detail the allegations against the three but The Arizona Republic reported last month that the executives were under investigation to determine their "knowledge, involvement and culpability" in the wait-times manipulation and retaliation against whistle-blowers who exposed the problem.
Gibson said the cases against the three distracted from progress being made to improve veterans care, but removing them is an important step in getting past the past controversy and "refocusing solely on caring for our nation's veterans."
Two months ago Gibson changed VA policy to allow him to place officials subject to an administrative investigation into non-patient care where they could carry out duties as assigned. Previously, VA policy was to put the officials on paid administrative leave.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said he applauded Gibson and VA Secretary Bob McDonald's move to fire the three, saying it "is clearly the right thing" to do for the veterans depending on the hospital's care and employees working there.
"But we cannot forget the fact that it took nearly two years of investigations just to get to this point, and this is just the beginning of the disciplinary process," said Miller, who has been the leading voice in Congress demanding accountability for the wait-time delays.
"The truth is, because of arcane civil service protections that put the job security of corrupt bureaucrats before the safety of veterans, it will take many months and possibly years for VA to complete these proposed disciplinary actions."
But it should serve as a wake-up call -- including to the Senate -- to reform the system.
Had the Senate passed legislation sent over from the House last summer, the three Phoenix employees could have been fired in weeks rather than continue collecting salaries while the process moves forward, Miller said.
The wait-times scandal found its way into the public eye in 2014, leading to congressional hearings and, ultimately, to the resignations of senior leaders in Washington. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki demanded resignation of Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel in May, but within weeks President Obama asked for Shinseki's resignation, as well.
Some 30 veterans awaiting appointments at the Phoenix medical center died before getting care, investigators concluded. VA inspectors concluded the delays contributed to the deaths but did not cause them.
After first placing Phoenix health care system Director Sharon Helman on administrative leave while it investigated the mess, the department fired her. She appealed to the Merit System Protections Board, but the firing was upheld -- not because of the wait-times manipulation but because she accepted lavish gifts from a former VA colleague turned lobbyist for a company wanting to do business with the hospital.
The Phoenix system's current director, Deborah Amdur, was appointed to the job in November. She previously was the medical center director of the VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vermont.
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