Right Hooks

Disgraced VA Director to Be Rehired?

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Political Editors · Jun. 7, 2016

That it took an inordinate amount of time to fire Sharon Helman, the former director of the Phoenix VA, in the first place was disgraceful and showed tremendous disrespect toward our veterans. Now add in the possibility that Helman could be reinstated to her former position and the situation becomes even more mind-boggling.

The agency’s secret waiting lists were initially exposed at the Phoenix VA, which essentially manifested its guilt by attempting to cover-up its wrongdoing. But none of that apparently matters anymore. As explained by the Justice Department to Fox News, “In its narrow decision, the Department determined that one aspect of the procedures to review the lawfulness of the employee’s removal — the provision giving an administrative judge final and unreviewable discretion to determine if the removal was lawful — violates the U.S. Constitution. The Department continues to defend all other aspects of the statute in this matter.”

Sen. John McCain scolded the move, saying, “The Obama Administration’s decision to disregard the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act with regard to Sharon Helman – who led the Phoenix VA during the scandal in care in which at least 40 veterans died – is shameful. When President Obama signed into law this bill which provides greater authority to fire senior VA leaders who deny and delay care of our veterans, he stated: ‘If you engage in an unethical practice, if you cover up a serious problem, you should be fired. Period.’ The administration’s decision not only undermines the law that Congress passed and the president supported, but sends a clear message that for President Obama and Attorney General [Loretta] Lynch, the sanctity of a federal bureaucrat’s job is far more important than the health and well-being of our veterans.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy similarly responded, “When Congress passed the Veterans Choice Act, a key provision allowed for incompetent and indifferent executives whose inaction allowed veterans to die to be more easily fired. Now, even after the president signed this provision into law, his administration is refusing to defend this measure of accountability. This decision by the Obama administration puts our veterans at further risk.”

To be clear, the decision does not ensure that Helman gets her job back. As DOJ clarified, “The Department continues to defend all other aspects of the statute in this matter.” Nevertheless, it opens the door to that possibility. A possibility that would be unheard of under any other administration.

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