A federal administrative law judge gave the Department of Veterans Affairs until Tuesday to repay withheld bonuses to the disgraced former Phoenix VA health care director at the center of the secret wait list scandal.
When audits disclosed the use of secret wait lists put into play by Sharon Helman, resulting in veterans waiting as long as a year or more to receive treatment, the VA removed her from her position and placed her on administrative leave pending dismissal.
During that period, the VA garnisheed her wages to recoup bonuses that had been paid her. The judge ordered the department to repay the $5,624 taken from her checks, according to Stars and Stripes.
Incredibly, an appeals judge ruled that the actions that first brought Helman national attention were insufficient to fire her for cause. Stars and Stripes reported:
The VA removed Helman in April and attempted to fire her after audits found secret patient wait lists in Phoenix and at facilities around the country used to hide long delays in care. But an appeals judge found it did not have grounds to fire her for hiding delays, and instead backed her firing for taking gifts including Beyonce tickets and a trip to Disneyland.
Bonuses are routinely paid to senior VA executives in exchange for good performance. However, Helman’s “good performance” was based on the fiction that veterans were being seen and treated in a timely manner.
The administrative law judge held that before the department could begin deducting sums from her pay while on administrative leave, it had to give her a hearing on the issue.
President Obama traveled to the Phoenix facility Friday to announce a VA advisory panel to sort out problems.
“It’s important that veterans know that somebody’s got their backs, and that if there are problems that we’re not being defensive about it, not hiding it,” Obama said.
But Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain was unimpressed, and saw it as merely another presidential photo op.
“The American people — and veterans in particular — should be as unimpressed by the president’s high-profile but empty gesture today as I am,” the Arizona Republican said.
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