How do you spell accountability? Whatever your answer, someone needs to teach the word to the Veterans Administration, which after all the gnashing of teeth and promises of heads rolling fired three (count ’em, 3) employees for manipulating patient wait list times.
Documents from the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) show that out of 280,000 employees, the VA punished 8 for direct involvement: Five were reprimanded, one was fired, one retired before firing, and termination is pending for another, the New York Times reports.
The numbers are a far cry from those cited by VA secretary Robert McDonald in February. At the time, he claimed that the department fired 60 people involved in the wait time scandal. After the interview, the department quickly released a clarifying statement: In fact, 14 were removed from their positions, and 60 were punished.
The VA did not dispute the new numbers dug up by The New York Times of just three fired employees, electing to say that 100 employees still await disciplinary action. According to the department, “V.A. is committed to holding employees accountable for misconduct.”
Legislators remain unconvinced at endless promises.
“It seems to me that if you want to send a message that wrongdoers are going to be held accountable, you actually have to hold one accountable,” Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice stated at a hearing earlier in April.
Those unsatisfied in Congress also point to the fact that the VA refuses to throw support behind numerous accountability bills introduced by members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Calls for accountability from Congress still fall on deaf ears at the department. To remedy the problem, HVAC chairman Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida on Thursday is introducing new legislation, the V.A. Accountability Act, to accelerate firings at the department. According to Miller, the VA has all sorts of ways of transferring and reassigning employees, instead of simply disciplining or firing them for wrongdoing.
McDonald says the authority to expeditiously remove employees already exists, but the real problem is that the department needs time to gather concrete evidence.
While the department keeps itself busy with internal procedures, top officials at the Phoenix VA hospital still collect salaries, despite being put on leave.
This report, by Jonah Bennett, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.