The Department of Veterans Affairs announced yesterday that Sharon Helman, the director of the Phoenix VA Healthcare System, finally was fired for the wait-time manipulation scandal that may have led to some veterans' deaths.
Pete Hegseth, the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, a veterans' advocacy group, declared "good riddance" to Helman.
"She was Exhibit 'A' of why the VA needs more accountability within its employee structure," Concerned Veterans for America legislative director Dan Caldwell tells New Times.
According to the VA inspector general's report on the mess in Phoenix, the Phoenix VA health care system under Helman prioritized certain goals in reducing wait times, resulting in "misleading portrayals of veterans' access to patient care."
"Despite Ms. Helman's claims of successful improvements in access measures . . . we found those accomplishments were inaccurate and unsupported," the IG's report said. Meanwhile, the Arizona Republic reported claims from a whistle-blowing VA doctor that the wait times were so long, it caused the deaths of 40 veterans. The inspector general's report was unable to verify that claim, but recommended possible administrative action against Helman nonetheless.
Concerned Veterans for America has been calling for Helman's firing for a majority of this year, and even created a clock indicating how long she'd been on paid administrative leave after the scandal broke.
Caldwell, who previously worked for Republican Congressman David Schweikert as a VA caseworker for constituents, says his group was instrumental in creating a new law that makes it easier to fire bad actors at the VA.
And while his organization is cheering Helman's firing, she wasn't the only one receiving blame from the inspector general.
"There's actually still a lot of bad actors at the Phoenix VA hospital," Caldwell says, adding, "The biggest thing that a new director of the Phoenix VA will run into is . . . people who were part of the scandal, that they'll have to rely on."
Caldwell says his organization and others are collaborating on fundamental reforms for how the VA's health care systems operate, and they hope to have that proposal rolled out next year.
Below, read the entire statement released yesterday by the VA:
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Today the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) formally removed Sharon Helman, the director of the Phoenix VA Healthcare System, from federal service. This decision followed an investigation by the VA Office of Inspector General in which allegations of lack of oversight and other misconduct were substantiated. This removal action underscores VA's commitment to hold leaders accountable and ensure that Veterans have access to quality and timely care.
"Lack of oversight and misconduct by VA leaders runs counter to our mission of serving Veterans, and VA will not tolerate it," said Secretary Robert A. McDonald. "We depend on VA employees and leaders to put the needs of Veterans first and honor VA's core values of 'Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect and Excellence.'"
The Department of Veterans Affairs will name a new director in Phoenix as quickly as possible. To ensure continuity of care for Veterans and leadership for VA employees during the recruitment period, Glenn Grippen has been designated interim Phoenix VA Healthcare System director.
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