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March 20 2016

VA’s Unequal Punishment Over Wait-time Scandals

Patrice J. Lee

The way the Department of Veterans Affairs is choosing to deal with officials who turned a blind eye to the manipulation of wait times leaves us scratching our heads.

As we remember, a national scandal broke out in 2014 when whistleblowers revealed that VA staff fudged their appointment records or never made appointments at all for veterans who sought care at VA hospitals.  They faced delays of up to a year to be seen and as many as 40 veterans died while awaiting care. Phoenix was the epicenter of the scandal, but others states has similar problems.  

A few people were removed or stepped down including former VA head Erick Shinseki, but the VA continues to be plagued by mismanagement with new scandals breaking out.

In Phoenix, three executives are getting the boot from the veteran’s hospital: Dr. Darren Deering, the hospital's chief of staff; Lance Robinson, the hospital's associate director; and Brad Curry, chief of health administration services. Two of the three have been on administrative leave since May 2014 when the scandal broke. They follow the firing of the hospital’s former director, Sharon Helman.

After being belatedly dismissed, they now have the right to appeal their firings, but the VA head thinks they won’t be successful. Given that a handful of other firings were overturned, we’re not so sure. Fox News reports:

Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said he was disappointed that it took so long for the executives to be removed, but said the firings should help VA "move past" the wait-time scandal that has consumed the agency for nearly two years.

Gibson said he was confident that the latest firings would be upheld on appeal. At least three previous firings or other disciplinary actions taken by the VA have been overturned in recent weeks.

Believe it or not, Phoenix represents stronger accountability for the VA wait-time scandals. In Arkansas, not one supervisor has received any discipline for their involvement and only two low-level employees have been given a temporary written warning – a slap on the wrists.

The Daily Caller reports:

Only two extremely low-level medical support assistants were punished, and the punishment was not serious at all. The written reprimand they received is only temporary, which is the second lowest form of punishment possible in the department. Supervisors got off scot-free, which is remarkable, given that the report notes, “Two VAMC supervisory employees displayed a lack of candor while making statements to special agents of VA Office of Inspector General regarding their knowledge and/or participation in the manipulation of patient waiting times.”

The Daily Caller notes that Congress is trying to empower the VA to fire employees through a House-passed bill, but the bill is stalled in the Senate. Even a hearing on proposals to speed up VA disciplinary action against executives leaves out regular employees.

In short, with agencies like the VA the more things appear to change, the more they seem to stay the same. As we report today, staff at a number of VA hospitals are still reported to be fudging wait times and keeping secret wait lists.

It’s shameful that our veterans who served to protect us overseas now suffer at the hands of bureaucrats and government workers who care little about their welfare. They deserve better. 

Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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