If there’s a silver lining in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ ongoing, multi-faceted pattern of corruption, it’s the thought that (at least) some of the department’s problem employees — especially those in leadership — would be properly disciplined for their malfeasance. There would be accountability. However, not only has the slow pace of justice been a slap in the face to our veterans, but the VA’s corruption is also contributing to systemic dysfunction within the agency that is risking veterans’ lives — and not just the lives of those put at risk by the VA’s widely publicized, falsified wait lists.
Matthew Daly of The Associated Press reported that last month, the VA demoted two senior officials, Kimberly Graves and Diana Rubens, after the agency’s acting inspector general accused the pair of forcing lower-ranking managers to accept job transfers and then taking over the vacant positions themselves. That left Ms. Graves and Ms. Rubens with the same senior-level pay and fewer responsibilities. The job vacancies that Ms. Graves and Ms. Rubens orchestrated also allowed them to allegedly pocket relocation stipends in the neighborhood of $130,000 and $274,000, respectively.
While the demotions could be considered mild punishment for such a scheme — the employees should have been terminated — not even those disciplinary actions could stick in the VA’s current climate of dysfunction. Ms. Graves and Ms. Rubens appealed their punishments, and, arguing that higher-ranking VA officials knew about — and did nothing to stop — the employees’ actions, had their demotions reversed. A judge with the Merit Systems Protection Board found in Ms. Graves’ favor last week, and a different judge overturned Ms. Rubens’ demotion Monday.
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, rightly called the decision a “slap in the face to many dedicated VA employees who do the right thing on a daily basis.”
In a statement, Rep. Miller told The Hill that “by now there should be no doubt whatsoever that our federal civil service system is in need of drastic reform.”
While our veterans wait for that reform to materialize, their care is being compromised — not only by corrupt leadership, excessive wait times and delays in the construction of new facilities, but also by problems with existing systems.
Case in point: As the Review-Journal’s Keith Rogers reported, at numerous VA health care facilities across the nation, including the VA Medical Center here in North Las Vegas, veterans who are considering committing suicide are told (via recorded message) to hang up and call a different number. The glitch has existed for nearly a year, and with 22 veterans committing suicide each day nationwide — and roughly 120 each year in Nevada — the delay in getting it fixed is simply unacceptable.
The difficulty in firing government bureaucrats, as well as the struggles in making sure government agencies run properly and efficiently, highlight the need for major civil service reform. In the case of the VA, reform means privatizing the whole operation, which will make accountability much more than a buzzword.