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The Institutionalization of Corruption at the VA

Saturday January 30th, 2016   •   Posted by Craig Eyermann at 7:08am PST   •  

va_sealThe ongoing ethical meltdown of the leadership at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs took a new, nasty turn for the worse on Friday, January 29, 2016, as Kimberly Graves, who was “demoted” along with fellow VA executive Diana Rubens after having been found to have abused their power by securing cushy new jobs with less responsibility for themselves by forcing out the people who previously held those jobs just had their “demotion” officially rescinded.

Sarah Westwood of the Washington Examiner reports:

A Department of Veterans Affairs official who was demoted after allegedly stealing thousands of taxpayer dollars from the agency was quietly reinstated to her position earlier this week.

Kimberly Graves, former head of a VA regional office in Minnesota, appeared before the Merit Systems Protection Board Wednesday to appeal the VA’s decision to strip her of her title in the wake of a scathing inspector general report. That report found Graves had pressured a colleague to leave his job so she could manipulate an employee relocation program and pocket nearly $130,000.

So how did Graves, who had previously plead the fifth in testimony before the U.S. Congress to avoid criminal charges, a legal strategy that would appear to have been successful as the U.S. Department of Justice under Attorney General Loretta Lynch declined to pursue any kind of prosecution in the matter, get such a favorable ruling?

The Hill‘s Bradford Richardson describes how that happened:

A judge on Wednesday reversed the demotion of a top Veterans Affairs (VA) official who allegedly manipulated a program to pocket thousands in taxpayer dollars.

The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) in Chicago ruled in favor of Kimberly Graves, a former St. Paul, Minn., regional director, who had appealed her demotion in the wake of the scandal.

The ruling will likely reinstate Graves’s senior executive service status and boost her salary, which was cut by $50,000 in the demotion.

Graves, who had been reassigned to the ethically-troubled Phoenix branch of the VA, will now not only benefit from having been reassigned to a region with a considerably lower cost of living, where we estimate that she actually came out ahead even with her cut in pay from her “demotion”, with the MSPB’s ruling, she will now also have the salary of someone who works in the nation’s highest cost of living regions.

How does Kimberley Graves feel about that situation? Government Executive‘s Kellie Lunney got an answer to that question:

“Ms. Graves is happy the action was reversed, and she looks forward to continuing her life’s work serving veterans,” said Graves’ attorney Julia Perkins, a partner at law firm Shaw Bransford & Roth.

But why did the MSPB reverse the demotion? Lunney confirms that is a mystery:

It’s not yet clear what the MSPB judge’s rationale was for reversing the department’s decision.

Perhaps it has something to do with the institutional bias that permeates hiring practices at not just the Department of Veterans Affairs, but all U.S. government agencies, where one special class of person is preferred to be placed in jobs above all others. The Daily Caller News Foundation‘s Luke Rosiak recently discovered a disturbing reality:

Virtually the only jobs explicitly reserved for veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs are toilet-cleaning “housekeeping aides,” a Daily Caller News Foundation analysis of data from found.

Filling the janitorial jobs with veterans helps the VA meet its hiring goals without intruding on a lucrative union giveaway that favors current government employees over everyone else for the majority of open positions….

Seventeen percent of job ads said they were open to current employees and to veterans under the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act (VEOA), which allows vets to apply for positions that otherwise are available only to current employees.

But, as TheDCNF reported Thursday, what job-seeking veterans don’t know is that a clause in VA’s collective bargaining agreement with the American Federation of Government Employees requires the agency to give “first and full consideration” to current federal employees before hiring veterans.

The same Chicago-based Merit Systems Protection Board is expected to announce whether Graves’ fellow pleader of the fifth, Diana Rubens, will have her “demotion” overturned on Monday, February 1, 2016. Providing job “protection” for fellow federal employees otherwise facing penalties for documented misconduct perhaps being the apparent racket that Board is in.

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January 2016