Chairman Demands More Firings Over Arizona Wait-Times Scandal

House Veterans Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller
House Veterans Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller

The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee said Thursday the Department of Veterans Affairs must fire more VA senior executives for failures connected to the wait-times scandal that many account for up to 40 veterans' deaths.

"In the wake of the biggest scandal in VA history, which centered on appointment wait-time manipulation, not a single VA senior executive has been fired for wait-time issues," Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, said in a statement.

Miller said VA Secretary Bob McDonald is doing his best to correct the VA's course, but "enormous challenges remain."

"The VA's chief problem -- a widespread lack of accountability among failed employees -- is as prevalent today as it was a year ago," he said, citing a poor record of firing senior officials connected to the wait-times scandal.

One year ago, Miller said the evidence that his committee staff uncovered showing significant problems at the VA Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, was seriously underestimated.

"It appears there could be as many as 40 veterans whose deaths could be related to delays in care," Miller told Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health Dr. Thomas Lynch.

The Phoenix facility became ground zero in what would soon become a nationwide scandal after CNN reported on the secret wait list, quoting a recently retired VA Phoenix doctor that 40 patients died waiting for care.

By May, former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned and was later replaced by McDonald, a West Point graduate and former Procter & Gamble CEO.

McDonald has rejected criticism that he is not holding people accountable. He said the VA is eyeing 40 senior executive officials and about 2,000 other employees for disciplinary action.

Two of the officials at the Phoenix facility are on administrative leave. However, Miller cited those two as symptomatic of the problem, since the allegations were made a year ago.

The only official fired from Phoenix was its director, Sharon Helman. But her firing was upheld only because investigators found she had improperly accepted gifts from a representative of a company looking to do business with the VA, not because of the wait-times scandal.

The VA also moved to fire four other senior officials but dismissed only one, James Dalton, former director of the VA healthcare system in Central Alabama, according to the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

Two others, Dublin VA hospital director John Goldman and Susan Taylor, a senior procurement officer with the Veterans Health Administration, retired after the VA began the firing process. The termination of Pittsburgh Healthcare Director Terry Gerigk Wolf had been put on hold for a time, but she was eventually fired in connection with an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease at the hospital.

"It's been a year since the scandal broke, and the [VA] is still facing challenges with transparency, protecting whistleblowers and conveying accurate information to the public," Miller said.

There are about 120 active investigations into VA whistleblower retaliation, Miller said. To date, the VA has reached legal settlements with more than 25 whistleblowers who challenged actions VA officials took against them, he said.

But Miller said it is "unclear if any VA employees who engaged in retribution have been fired."

"In one case, the [VA] praised the leadership of a VA police chief in Florida after his department was found liable for $1.3 million of retaliation claims," he said.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com.

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