- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2014

The Department of Veterans Affairs has kept a high-ranking senior executive in charge of a more than $1 billion network of hospitals and clinics despite learning she had falsely claimed to have a master’s degree in official records for years, documents show.

The director of VA’s Sierra Pacific Network, Sheila M. Cullen falsely claimed in “numerous official documents” that Bernard M. Baruch College-Mount Sinai School of Medicine awarded her a master’s degree she never earned, according to a memo by the VA inspector general’s office.

VA officials refuse to say what, if any, punishment Ms. Cullen faced.

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But four years later, she remains on the job, overseeing six medical centers and dozens of clinics in northern California, Nevada, Hawaii and the Pacific Rim that provide care to hundreds of thousands of veterans.

Although VA officials were informed about the falsifications in 2009, the question of how they responded remains relevant as lawmakers consider giving the VA more power to fire and demote senior executives.

Lawmakers also are starting to call for the firing of VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki after accusations that VA officials created bogus wait lists of patients to cover up delays for appointments.

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Mr. Shinseki has told reporters he takes a tough stance against misconduct and has removed about 6,000 employees in the past two years. But in the case of Ms. Cullen, who is not tied to the wait list scandal, it’s not clear whether VA even tried to punish her.

Officials refused to comment. But in a memo outlining the years of falsifications on applications for promotions and in a government background check, officials recommended an ethics refresher course.

Ms. Cullen falsified the fact that she had a master’s degree on numerous occasions, including a form for a background investigation and applications for promotions, and throughout our investigation, she continued to make assertions that she did not misrepresent having a master’s degree,” the inspector general’s office reported in the July 7, 2009, memo to the VA.

“Moreover [the Veterans Health Administration] regularly cited the phony master’s degree in various documents reflecting promotions and positive employment actions related to Ms. Cullen.”

Ms. Cullen confirmed in an email over the weekend that she was interviewed by the VA’s inspector general.

“I completed two years of graduate school however did not complete a thesis and therefore was not awarded a degree,” she wrote in an email.

“This status was known when I was hired,” she said.

She said she had not seen the inspector general’s report and therefore could not comment. The Washington Times emailed Ms. Cullen a copy of the findings, but she did not respond.

The memo was first unearthed through a Freedom of Information Act request by the transparency site GovernmentAttic.org.

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