VA Officials May Face Charges for Abusing Positions for Personal Gain

Department of Veterans Affairs

Two senior Department of Veterans Affairs officials could face criminal prosecution after the agency investigators found they coerced two VA regional office directors to leave their jobs so that they could then fill them.

Diana Rubens had been a deputy under secretary for field operations until she took over as director for Veterans Affairs Regional Office in Philadelphia in June 2014. Kimberly Graves, formerly director of the Veterans Benefits Administration's Eastern Area Office (now called the North Atlantic District) took over as director of the St. Paul, Minnesota, VARO in October 2014.

"Our analysis of available evidence indicated two directors appear to have been inappropriately coerced to leave positions they were not interested in leaving to create vacancies for Ms. Rubens and Ms. Graves," the IG investigators said in the report.

The IG made criminal referrals to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia on the actions "orchestrated" by Rubens and Graves and said formal decisions on whether to prosecute are pending.

Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said he expects the federal attorney's office to weigh the criminal referral and, if warranted, prosecute the officials "to the fullest extent of the law."

"This report is simply the latest in a long line of investigations showing VA officials helping themselves instead of helping America's veterans," Miller said.

The IG also is recommending the VA look into disciplinary actions against several officials for their roles in Rubens' move to Philadelphia, including VBA Under Secretary Allison Hickey, who told investigators she picked Rubens for the job.

Rubens and Graves both moved into jobs that carried much less responsibility and fell lower on the SES pay scale than they were getting, but retained their high six-figure salaries. Rubens was earning $181,000 and Graves $174,000.

In addition, both were provided relocation expenses.  Rubens was paid $274,000 for her move and Graves was paid $129,000, the IG states. For her move Rubens was able to take advantage of the Appraised Value Offer program, which pays an employee for the value of their home as an incentive for a job move.

While the payments were allowable under federal and VA policy, the IG questioned the timeliness of Rubens being eligible for the AVO program. It also took issue with her getting a 17-day extension for temporary quarters subsistence allowance, reimbursement of $76 for alcoholic beverages and a $47 restaurant bill not backed up with receipts.

The IG said regulations allowed for the officials to keep their high salaries even though they took jobs that paid lower on the scale and decreased their responsibilities.

Rubens took over the Philadelphia VARO from Robert McKenrick, who was transferred to the Los Angeles regional office.  McKenrick told investigators the message he got was to take the LA position or lose his job.

"We found Ms. Rubens' reassignment to Philadelphia was approved before Mr. McKenrick was given a chance to review and consider his reassignment package," the investigators also noted.

Graves moved into the St. Paul VARO after having a hand in its former director, Antoine Waller, making an inquiry into assuming directorship of the Philadelphia regional office, the report states. After he inquired into that job Graves told him it was no longer available, but that his name had been forwarded to VA Secretary Bob McDonald for the Baltimore regional office.

Waller did not want Baltimore, but Graves' subordinate, Beth Mc Coy, informed him in an email that with his name before McDonald "saying no now is not a clean or easy option."

Waller took the Baltimore job. Once St. Paul opened up, according to the IG, Graves contacted Rubens, saying "I'd like to throw my name in for consideration for St. Paul ... I feel like I've done my time and I'd like to put my name in."

In both cases, the IG says in a just-released report, the women retained high Senior Executive Service annual salaries even though their new positions were lower on the SES pay scales and carried significantly fewer responsibilities.

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

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