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It really is a toss up these days as to which is the most criminally corrupt federal government agency. Is it the Internal Revenue Service, the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Veterans Affairs?
In the horse race of malfeasance, the VA edged into a slight lead last week, as two of its regional directors asserted their fifth amendment rights against self incrimination in Congressional testimony last week. Heath Druzin of Stars and Stripes describes the scene:
“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.
Miller’s flair for the dramatic was evident in the placement for witnesses: Rubens and St. Paul VA Regional Director Kimberly Graves, both accused by the VA Office of Inspector General of serious malfeasance, were seated next to the regional directors they are said to have pushed out of their jobs for financial gain. 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.
Benjamin Krause of Disabled Veterans assembled a video of Rubens’ and Graves’ testimony, in which he gradually sped up their speech each time they plead the fifth amendment (so no, that’s not a video glitch):
Stars and Stripes describes the financial windfall both received, but perhaps more disturbingly, reveals that both are still on the job.
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. That bill earned the ire of lawmakers and rank-and-file VA employees alike, and the VA suspended the program in the face of the report.
Former VA Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey, who was in charge of 20,000 employees, was also implicated in the scheme and originally subpoenaed but resigned under pressure before the hearing. The committee then withdrew her subpoena.
Despite the accusations against them, Rubens and Graves are all still on the job. In a lengthy email obtained by Stars and Stripes, dated Wednesday, Rubens highlights what she says are improvements in customer service at the Philadelphia and Wilmington (Del.) Regional Office.
On that last note, in other VA corrupt conduct news, USA Today‘s Donovan Slack and Bill Theobald report on who some of the most notable recipients of $142 million in “performance” bonuses that the scandal-plagued government department were:
WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs doled out more than $142 million in bonuses to executives and employees for performance in 2014 even as scandals over veterans’ health care and other issues racked the agency.
Among the recipients were claims processors in a Philadelphia benefits office that investigators dubbed the worst in the country last year. They received $300 to $900 each.
Given Philadelphia VA Regional Office Director Diana Rubens‘s alleged ethical improprieties, we suspect that the standards she uses to measure the “improvements” in customer service she promised at her regional office would not likely be shared by many veterans among her Philadelphia-area “customers”.
That would be yet another reason to plead the fifth.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Performance.gov