WASHINGTON — The Veterans Affairs Department said it is firing four senior executives as officials move to crack down on wrongdoing following a nationwide scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking medical care, as well as falsified records covering up the delays.
The dismissals are the first since Congress passed a law this summer making it easier for veterans who experience delays to get care outside the VA's nationwide network of hospitals and clinics. The law also makes it easier for the agency to fire senior officials suspected of wrongdoing, shortening their appeals process to 28 days.
Among those being fired are a top purchasing official at the Veterans Health Administration, directors of VA hospitals in Pittsburgh and Dublin, Ga., and a regional hospital director in central Alabama, the VA said.
"VA will actively and aggressively pursue disciplinary action against those who violate our values," Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said Monday. "There should be no doubt that when we discover evidence of wrongdoing, we will hold employees accountable."
But a Republican congressman challenged the VA, saying that at least one of the employees being fired had already announced his retirement. John Goldman, director of the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin, said last month that he was stepping down. Employees at the hospital have admitted keeping false records to hide long wait times for veterans.
"Bragging about the proposed removal of someone who has already announced his retirement can only be described as disingenuous," said Rep. Jeff Miller of Pensacola, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
Miller called the VA's announcement of Goldman's dismissal a "semantic sleight of hand."
A VA spokeswoman said the VA prepared papers ordering Goldman's removal independent of his retirement announcement.
Miller said, "What I don't want to see happen is for (senior employees) to retire, resign or find another government job outside of VA without consequence — a pattern that has been emerging in recent weeks."
One of the employees being fired is Susan Taylor, the deputy chief procurement officer with the VHA who oversees $15 billion a year in federal contracts. A report by the VA's Office of Inspector General found that she "misused her position and VA resources" to promote a private company.
Terry Gerigk Wolf, director of the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System, is being fired for unspecified "conduct unbecoming a senior executive."
James Talton, director of the Central Alabama VA Healthcare System, is being fired after an investigation by the VA's Office of Accountability Review substantiated allegations of neglect of duty.