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VA Leadership’s Hemorrhaging Ethics

Saturday January 2nd, 2016   •   Posted by Craig Eyermann at 8:41am PST   •  

15815136_S Throughout 2015, we’ve paid close attention to news stories highlighting the degree to which corruption has become institutionalized at the federal agency charged with providing lifetime medical care to the former members of the nation’s military services. The following links will get you up to speed with what can only be described as the complete collapse of ethics at the U.S. government’s largest civilian agency:

The two most recent stories regarding the misconduct of two of the VA’s executives are particularly galling, because on December 28, 2015, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia announced that it would not prosecute either executive, despite a referral for criminal prosecution from the VA’s Inspector General. Stars and Stripes updates the story:

WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors have decided not to press criminal charges against two former executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs who were accused of manipulating the agency’s hiring system for their own gain.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia said Thursday it has declined a referral from the VA inspector general for criminal prosecution of Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves.

The inspector general said in a report this fall that Rubens and Graves forced lower-ranking regional managers to accept job transfers against their will. Rubens and Graves then stepped into the vacant positions themselves, keeping their pay while reducing their responsibilities.

Both Rubens and Graves had pled the fifth at Congressional hearings in order to avoid exposing themselves to criminal charges related to the misconduct reported by the VA’s Inspector General – a legal strategy that now appears to have paid off hansomely, as the U.S. Department of Justice has chosen to let them off scot-free.

And we mean “paid off handsomely” in more ways that one. Stars and Stripes also reports that the “demotions” they received in November 2015 have been rescinded:

Rubens and Graves were demoted in November, but their demotions were rescinded this month after a paperwork mix-up. The VA has said it will reissue the demotions after the problem is resolved.

Given the track record of their fellow executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs, it is not unreasonable to believe that the two executives will ever face any decline in their material well being as a result of their unethical actions.

Speaking of which, a good question to ask is how did the VA come to institutionalize corruption to such a degree? As it happens, we learned part of the answer to that question thanks to the investigative reporting of the Daily Caller‘s Luke Rosiak, who uncovered what led to the resignation of the VA’s previous Inspector General back in 2008:

Jon Wooditch, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ former top watchdog, resigned after being caught masturbating in the agency’s all-glass conference room in full view of people across the street, including school teachers at an education conference.

Wooditch, whose job as acting inspector general and deputy inspector general was to police waste and fraud cases at the notoriously troubled federal agency, resigned in 2008 after lying to investigators.

Those investigators confronted him with detailed instances of public masturbation in multiple states, according to a previously undisclosed report by the Department of the Interior inspector general and obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.

It was during Wooditch’s tenure as deputy inspector general that the VA IG first uncovered — then all but ignored — dozens of clues of the widespread patient wait-list manipulation that contributed to the deaths of dozens of veterans.

Perhaps the best way to understand the degree of extreme corruption at the Department of Veterans Affairs is to recognize that it’s an example of the inevitable result that comes about whenever bureaucrats are free to put their own interests ahead of those of regular Americans.

And nowhere is that attitude more exemplified than by the statements of Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson on December 9, 2015, as reported in the Washington Post:

A Veterans Affairs official on Wednesday defended the department’s decision to demote but not fire two senior executives who collected $400,000 in a relocation scheme, and pushed back sharply against lawmakers for pressing for punishment rather than accountability for the VA workforce.

“In my many years in the private sector, I’ve never encountered an organization where leadership was measured by how many people you fired,” Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson told the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

“You can’t fire your way to excellence.”

Given what we’ve learned of the state of personnel demotions at the VA, Gibson doesn’t seem particularly capable of enforcing demotions as a path to excellence either. In all his many years in the private sector, he also appears to have not learned that a change of leadership is one of the first definitive steps that you can take to stop the bleeding in a failing enterprise. Sadly, the VA under its current leadership is hemorrhaging blood in more ways than one.

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January 2016