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The VA's can of worms

The scandal involving the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital scheduling delays is problematic in many ways. It apparently may have delayed treatment of veterans by keeping some portions of those waiting "off the books," apparently so that the performance of the hospitals would look more favorable.

It led to Congress changing the law controlling how senior officials within the VA can be disciplined and terminated. The law itself has been called into question, as it forces the official to appeal their notice of removal within seven days and only provides the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) with 21 days to render a decision. 

The investigation of the Phoenix VA hospital has led to a removal of a senior administrator, but not because of the scheduling scandal. Her removal was upheld because of inappropriate gifts, including an $11,000 trip to Disneyland for her and her family.

The VA failed, according to the administrative law judge who authored the decision, "connect the dots" in their claims that she had a role with the scheduling delays. While lower level managers may have directly controlled the delay operation, the VA produced no evidence that showed she was involved.

However, the investigation into her actions produced evidence of gifts that were inappropriately accepted, such as the Disneyland trip and almost $1,000 for tickets to a music concert.

The scandal has also raised question of how whistleblowers have been treated and retaliated against, and how those who engaged in such retaliation should be punished.

The VA clearly needs improvement to it management and its functional operation. For the sake of the veterans who need its services, let us hope this opening of the can of worms produces lasting results. 

The Washington Post, "Family trip to Disneyland, Beyonce tickets were 'inappropriate gifts' to VA official, judge rules," Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, December 24, 2014

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