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The senior leadership of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has decided that two of its executives who recently “plead the fifth” to avoid answering allegations related to their potential criminal misconduct before the U.S. Congress will not be purged from the government agency’s payroll. Nor will they be required to pay back the bonuses they received as part of their alleged abuse of their authority for personal and financial gain.
Instead, the VA’s leadership has decided that they will be demoted to slightly lower paying jobs at other VA facilities at other cities, where they will be fully eligible to collect relocation benefits. Government Executive‘s Kellie Lunney reports:
The department reassigned Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves to General Schedule assistant director positions within the Veterans Benefits Administration, according to a Nov. 20 statement. The Associated Press reported that the department reassigned Rubens to the Houston facility, and Graves to the Phoenix regional office.
Their new jobs will come with a pay cut since they are being demoted from the Senior Executive Service to the General Schedule pay system. But the two, who originally got into hot water over relocation benefits and improper reassignments, are still entitled to “seek reimbursement for appropriate costs” associated with their latest reassignments “in accordance with governmentwide statutes and regulations that require federal agencies to pay for the geographic relocation of an employee directed to relocate,” said a VA spokesperson.
Diana Rubens was previously assigned to the VA’s Philadelphia, Pennsylvania office. According to Payscale, the overall cost of living at her new assignment’s location of Houston, Texas is 17% lower than that of the Philadelpha metropolitan area.
Unless the pay for her new position is less than 83% of her previous salary, what that difference in the cost of living between VA locations means is that Rubens is likely coming out ahead financially as a result of her demotion and new relocation.
Meanwhile, Kimberly Graves will be moving from St. Paul, Minnesota to Phoenix, Arizona, which according to Payscale, has an overall cost of living that is 10% lower than St. Paul.
In this case, if Graves’ pay is at least 90% of her previous salary or higher, she also will financially benefit from being demoted as a result of her new relocation.
Speaking of financial benefits, Government Executive describes the gains that both received as a result of their alleged misconduct, which involved the department’s now suspected “Appraised Value Offer” (AVO) program, where the U.S. government buys the houses of the employees it relocates at their market value, which the VA’s senior leadership would not appear willing to claw back:
The VA indefinitely suspended its AVO program after the department’s watchdog in September concluded that Rubens, who was director of VBA’s Philadelphia regional office, and Graves, who led VBA’s St. Paul regional office, improperly helped create vacancies at their respective offices and volunteered to fill them. The two employees occupying those jobs at the time — Antione Waller and Robert McKenrick – were relocated to jobs (in Baltimore and Los Angeles, respectively) they did not volunteer for to make room for Rubens and Graves, who were working elsewhere at the time, according to the watchdog.
Additionally, VA paid nearly $300,000 in relocation expenses, including costs related to the AVO program for Rubens, and about $129,000 for Graves. Both Rubens and Graves took on fewer job responsibilities in their new positions in Philadelphia and St. Paul, but kept their previous annual salaries of $181,497 for Rubens, and $173,949 for Graves. Overall, the IG concluded that VBA managers reassigned senior executives to circumvent a pay freeze, and also paid many of those executives unjustified relocation incentives.
As you might imagine, those who have been most harmed by the VA’s ongoing ethics scandals, which have cost both millions of dollars and thousands of lives as veterans have been denied timely medical treatment through the agency’s single-payer health care system, are not happy:
The head of the American Legion said he was disappointed that the department decided not to fire Rubens and Graves. “They are still allowed to draw generous paychecks and continue employment in an agency that was created to serve veterans,” said Dale Barnett, the group’s national commander. “This is an insult and disgrace to all veterans. Any promises that VA officials make about accountability in the future need to be taken with a grain of salt.”
Pete Hegseth, chief executive officer of Concerned Veterans for America, went further, blasting VA Secretary Bob McDonald directly. “His refusal to take meaningful action is perhaps the clearest evidence yet that he is part of the VA’s culture problem, not the solution,” Hegseth said in a statement. “If he will not fire employees who knowingly violate federal rules, misuse tax dollars and show the utmost contempt for veterans and their needs, he should follow Ms. Rubens and Ms. Graves out the door. His weakness and inability as a leader has never been more apparent.”
For his part, President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the 2015 VA Accountability Act, currently pending in the U.S. Senate, which would make it easier for the VA to actually fire corrupt or incompetent employees on its payroll.
If only the federal government’s bureaucrats would put the interests of regular Americans ahead of their own, the VA’s scandals might stop being an ongoing festering wound and veterans in need of medical treatment would start getting the care they earned through their service. Alas, it would seem that the bureaucrats at the very highest levels of the U.S. government have other priorities.