Congress to Investigate Claims VA Officials Abused Positions for Gain

Department of Veterans Affairs

Congress will hold a hearing this month into allegations that two Veterans Affairs Department officials used their positions to push a pair of regional directors out of their jobs, take over the vacancies and collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in relocation expenses from the VA.

The allegations, which have been passed on to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C., for possible criminal prosecution, were from the VA's Office of the Inspector General.

"In light of the serious misuse of taxpayer dollars and abuse of power substantiated by the OIG, it is our responsibility to examine how such practices were allowed and put an end to VA's culture of complacency," Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, said on Thursday.

Miller chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, which will conduct the oversight hearing on Oct. 21.

The congressman said the IG report makes clear that that senior VA leaders "doled out outrageously generous relocation expense benefits as if they were an entitlement or perk of employment, as opposed to a tool to fill job vacancies that no qualified manager would accept."

Diana Rubens, now director of VA regional office in Philadelphia, was paid $274,000 in moving assistance, the IG said. The VA authorized Rubens 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. Kimberly Graves, now director of VA regional office in St. Paul, Minnesota, received $129,000 for her move.

The congressman said the moves were not made in the interest of the VA but in the interests of the individuals.

The IG concluded that both women coerced their predecessors in Philadelphia and St. Paul into transferring so they could take over the jobs. Rubens had been a deputy undersecretary for field operations and Graves was the former director of the Veterans Benefits Administration's Eastern Area Office, now called the North Atlantic District.

Rubens took over the Philadelphia post in June 2014. Her predecessor, Robert McKenrick, told investigators that he took a transfer to Los Angeles because he understood he would lose his job if he didn't.

Antoine Waller said he took a transfer from St. Paul to Baltimore after falling for a bait-and-switch. Graves allegedly encouraged him to apply for the Philadelphia position -- which he wanted -- but then told him it was no longer available. He was told that his name was forwarded to VA Secretary Bob McDonald for the Baltimore directorship and that it was expected he would take it.

He did, and Graves began heading the St. Paul regional office in October 2014.

The IG also concluded that Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey, who heads up the VBA, should also be disciplined for selecting Rubens for the job. The IG findings prompted The American Legion, one of the largest veterans' service organizations in the country, to renew its call for her resignation or firing.

The VA has not commented on the Legion's call for Hickey's removal from the department.

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

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