Dodging Criminal Charges, Former VA Execs May Still Be Disciplined

  • Philadelphia VA Director Diana Rubens. Cliff Owen/AP
    Philadelphia VA Director Diana Rubens. Cliff Owen/AP
  • VA St. Paul Regional Office Director Kimberly Graves listens at a Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Nov. 2, 2015. Graves asserted her Fifth Amendment rights under the Constitution against self-incrimination. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)
    VA St. Paul Regional Office Director Kimberly Graves listens at a Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Nov. 2, 2015. Graves asserted her Fifth Amendment rights under the Constitution against self-incrimination. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

The two former executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs dodged criminal charges but still may face disciplinary action for manipulating the VA's hiring system for personal gain

The Associated Press reported this week that the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia declined a referral from the VA inspector general for criminal prosecution of Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves, who were accused of forcing subordinates to vacate positions they wanted for themselves. 

But the VA's own disciplinary process has restarted, according to a source who requested anonymity to freely discuss the matter with Military.com. The case has faced intense scrutiny from lawmakers, including Rep. Jeff Miller, a Republican from Florida and the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, who referenced the issue as recently as last week in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

The inspector general report "detailed how the VA executives pressured subordinates to accept position transfers only to volunteer for the vacated jobs while keeping their original salaries and having VA pay them more than $400,000 in taxpayer funded relocation benefits," he wrote in the Dec. 22 correspondence, a copy of which was obtained by Military.com.

"Will the DoJ pursue charges against these employees?" he added. "If not, why not?"

In the letter, Miller also referenced another scandal at the department involving the manipulation of patient wait times and asked Lynch for an update on the investigation beyond the Phoenix hospital where the issue first surfaced.

A spokesman for the Justice Department didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from Military.com.

Graves, the former director of the St. Paul, Minnesota Regional Office, and Rubens, director of the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Regional Office, last month repeatedly invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during an inquiry into the matter led by Miller.

The two faced disciplinary action under the provisions of the Accountability Act that lawmakers passed last year to fast-track firings of VA employees for misbehavior or incompetence, according to Danny Pummill, principal deputy undersecretary for benefits.

"They are now in the appeal process," he said during the hearing. "At the end of seven days, we can tell the committee what the punishment was."

But the effort was delayed after VA officials reportedly failed to provide additional evidence during an appeals hearing -- an oversight that apparently caused the process to start over.

A spokesman for the VA didn't immediately respond to a telephone request for comment regarding the resumption of the disciplinary process against Rubens and Graves.

Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Washington, D.C., said the case highlights shortcomings in the department's rules.

"Just because something stinks doesn't make it criminally illegal," he said in an email to Military.com. "The two individuals exposed loopholes that need to be fixed to ensure that no one else can manipulate the system for personal gain."

--Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.

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