American Legion to VA: ‘Hold People Accountable’
American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett called a senior VA official’s concession during a congressional hearing tonight that the department has an accountability problem “one of the understatements of the year.”Based on the following, it appears that Barnett's statement is also quite an understatement.
VA directors plead Fifth at House committee hearing
“Upon advice of counsel, I respectfully exercise my Fifth Amendment right and decline to answer that question,” Philadelphia VA Regional Office Director Diana Rubens said repeatedly under tough questioning from House Committee on Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla.I wish I could conjure up some outrage at this, but I've heard so many verses of the same old song that, to quote Jo Dee Messina, "My Give a Damn's Busted."
... Rubens and St. Paul VA Regional Director Kimberly Graves (are) both accused by the VA Office of Inspector General of serious malfeasance... The actions spurred a criminal complaint the IG referred to the Department of Justice, and the VA has recommended both directors be punished.
Rubens and Graves sat grimly through the questioning and the testimony of LA VA Regional Director Robert McKenrick and Baltimore VA Regional Director Antione Waller, who said they had been pressured into leaving the posts that Rubens and Graves filled.
“If VA put half of the effort into pushing for true accountability or protecting their employees who come forth as whistleblowers as they have for the individuals investigated in this IG report, then I honestly think the department would be in a much better place,” Miller said. “VA exists for veterans, not for itself or the unjust enrichment of its senior employees.” (emphasis added - along with an "Amen!" or two)
It’s the latest black eye for the VA, which has been under fire since a scandal in veterans health care broke more than a year and a half ago with revelations of patients dying while lingering on secret wait lists at the Phoenix VA Medical Center. The scandal cost former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki his job, but many lawmakers have grown impatient with what they see as a slow pace of departmental reforms.
The VA IG investigation found that Rubens and Graves gamed the department’s hiring system to create vacancies in locations to which they wanted to move in jobs with fewer responsibilities while maintaining their salaries.
Between them, Rubens and Graves also received roughly $400,000 in moving expense reimbursement as part of a VA program to entice candidates into hard-to-fill jobs, despite apparently seeking the positions...
Despite the accusations against them, Rubens and Graves are all still on the job...
Kristen Ruell, a Philadelphia VA Regional Office employee who has testified about malfeasance at the office, said having Rubens continue in her job is hurting morale for rank-and-file workers.
“People are depressed because employees have been fired for less and they don’t understand how she’s still making decisions,” she said in phone interview with Stars and Stripes.