The Department of Veterans Affairs announced that it has fired three top executives at the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix because of their involvement in the wait-list scandal that rocked the VA last year. In November 2014, the Medical Center’s director, Sharon Helman, was fired because of wait-list scandal, but her top aides were not. Now that has changed.
The VA’s announcement on Tuesday is just the first step in the long drawn out process of actually firing the three men; Dr. Darren Deering, the hospital’s chief of staff; Lance Robinson, the hospital’s associate director; and Brad Curry, the chief of health administration services. To start the firing process, the VA formally proposed that the three men should be removed from the VA employment rolls However, under VA rules, Deering, Robinson and Curry will be able to challenge their dismissals. For Helman, the same process took months.
Robinson and Curry had being placed on paid leave in May 2014 at the height of the wait-list scandal, but they had recently returned to work at the VA That was particularly surprising in Curry’s case, since he had also been involved in another scandal at the Phoenix VA Medical Center. One of the VA employees who first brought the wait-list scandal to the public’s attention was Tonja Laney, the Phoenix VA Medical Center’s Chief Financial Officer at the time. However, because Laney was a VA whistleblower, Brad Curry referred to her as a “mudshark”, a term used in the South to describe White women who date or marry Black men. Laney has two biracial children. However, despite Curry’s racist behavior, he was still employed by VA.
At least 40 U.S. veterans died while waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, and according to Dr. Sam Foote, who spent 24 years working in the VA system in Phoenix, many of those veterans had been placed on a secret waiting list. The secret list was part of an elaborate scheme designed by top executives at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system to hide the fact that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor. Those top executives were Helman, Deering, Robinson and Curry. Until now, only Helman had paid any consequences for the wait-list scandal.
In making the announcement about the three men, Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said, “Frankly, I am disappointed that it took as long as it did for proposed actions to be made but I am satisfied that we carefully reviewed a massive amount of evidence to ensure the accountability actions are supported. These cases have served as a distraction to the progress being made to improve the care we provide in Phoenix and across the nation. Today marks an important step in moving past the events of the past and refocusing solely on caring for our nation’s Veterans.”
Keep in mind that it took nearly two years of investigations to get to this point, and VA Secretary Gibson’s announcement is just the beginning of the disciplinary process. Arcane civil service procedures at the VA protect the job security of all bureaucrats at the VA, even the corrupt bureaucrats like Deering, Robinson and Curry. So it will take many more months and possibly even years for the VA to complete the disciplinary actions announce by VA Secretary Gibson.
In February 2015, then VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald stated in a nationally televised interview that 60 people involved in the wait-list scandal had been fired by the VA. But ten months later, House Committee on Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (R Florida) showed that the Department of Veterans Affairs had really only disciplined eight employees because of their involvement in the wait-list scandal. One was fired, and one retired in lieu of termination. One other VA employee’s termination was pending at the time, and five VA employees were either reprimanded or suspended for a period of up to two months.
The odds are that it will be a very long time before Deering, Robinson and Curry actually lose their jobs. That’s the way the VA does things.