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“Bad Apples” and “Gypsy Bureaucrats” at the VA

Thursday October 13th, 2016   •   Posted by Craig Eyermann at 6:34am PDT   •  

A couple of weeks ago, comedian John Oliver discussed the topic of police accountability on his show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. As part of that discussion, he focused on the specific issue of “gypsy cops”, where officers who have engaged in misconduct are allowed to resign and to relocate to other divisions or police departments to evade accountability for their actions, which benefits both themselves and the police bureaucracy, but not the communities they serve. That part of the discussion begins at the 9:20 mark in the following video.

This is an aspect of how the institutionalization of corruption within a bureaucracy works to conceal the degree to which that misconduct within their institutions exists from the public, which is a practice that is not limited to police departments. By shuffling their worst employees out of the places where their misconduct has become evident, government bureaucrats are frequently able to evade accountability for the actions of their “bad apples”, but at the cost of allowing similar misconduct to continue – often by the same badly behaving bureaucrat where the only thing that really changed was the address of their work location.

The Daily Caller News Foundations‘ Luke Rosiak describes how that corrupt practice was applied at the Department of Veterans Affairs:

Phoenix Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials hired a woman this year who was recently fired from another VA facility for abusing patients and lying, giving her preference over veterans and other applicants who applied for the job, The Daily Caller News Foundation has learned.

Deloris Judd was fired from the North Chicago VA for numerous incidents of patient abuse. Her union tried to block the firing, but arbitrators found that she also lied during her appeal, and seconded the dismissal in March 2016.

Three months later, she was hired by the Phoenix VA, which claims that, since a major 2014 scandal involving employees lying about patient wait-times, it has turned things around and has no tolerance for such behavior.

The Arizona VA facility hired Judd even though the state of Illinois put a lien on her for unpaid taxes in 2015. And thanks to a union contract and federal hiring policy that favors former federal employees over the public when hiring, the fired ex-fed appears to have been vaulted to the front of the line in front of veterans who wanted the job.

Phoenix put Judd to work on the Choice Card program, TheDCNF learned, an initiative intended by Congress to let VA patients escape long wait-times by going to private doctors. Judd had no experience in the area, and her department is now the worst-performing at Phoenix, trapping patients for months and improperly managing waiting lists.

The VA’s practice of placing either incompetent or corrupt individuals at its other divisions after scandals involving them have been exposed even extends to the new leader of the Phoenix VA. The Arizona Republic‘s opinion columnist Laurie Roberts describes RimaAnn Nelson’s career path before she became the seventh director of the scandal-plagued Phoenix branch of the VA in the last 3 years, picking up from her leadership of the St. Louis branch of the VA.

Nelson was running the joint when 1,812 St. Louis patients faced possible exposure to hepatitis and HIV from an unsanitary VA dental clinic. She was there when operating rooms had to be closed — twice — given serious medical safety issues such as rusty surgical trays, according to the Daily Caller. And when an audit found that only half of the facility’s 27 nurses had the required documentation of their competency in their personnel files.

And here’s something that might sound familiar. According to the Daily Caller, nurses reported they were retaliated against when they tried to report problems … like say, veterans left to sit in their own feces for days.

Under her management, the St. Louis hospital had the lowest patient satisfaction rating of any VA hospital in the nation. Dead last, out of 126.

The VA lauded Nelson for cleaning up the messes – the ones that occurred on her watch. Then they packed her off to oversee a tiny clinic in Manila, where she managed to hang on to her $160,000 salary.

Roberts tries to send a message to the senior leadership of the VA’s bureaucracy at the conclusion of her column.

Attn. VA brass (and Obama): The type of leadership we need in Phoenix is someone who has demonstrated that he or she can run a big VA operation and run it well. A person who can provide consistent leadership to ensure that veterans quickly get the help they need. The help we owe them.

Don’t send us your pariahs who have somehow managed to hang on to their VA jobs, the ones who arrive with a bushel basket full of scandal.

I know it’s almost impossible to fire anyone in the VA, so you pass around the trash. But surely there is someone inside the VA with a record of accomplishment, someone who can stay long enough for the paint to at least dry on their personal parking space.

What did Arizona’s veterans do to deserve this?

What indeed? Other than to be the place where the VA’s worst practices were first exposed to national attention?

The practice of shuffling bad acting “gypsy bureaucrats” to different government offices to evade real accountability for their misconduct only succeeds in expanding the number of places where their misconduct becomes tolerated. Better oversight and more effective accountability need to be established in order to reverse the institutionalization of corruption within the government agencies where they have become endemic.

Or else what is continuing to happen at the Phoenix VA will become commonplace at all branches of the VA. Or for that matter, across the entire federal government bureaucracy.

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October 2016