- Associated Press - Friday, October 24, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The central Alabama VA director has been fired months after officials discovered that his department was riddled with problems, including long wait times for appointments, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced Friday.

The department announced Aug. 21 that James Talton was placed on paid administrative leave. Then on Oct. 6, it began taking steps to terminate him. On Friday, the department announced he was fired and is no longer being paid after an investigation confirmed the allegations of neglect of duty.

Republican Rep. Martha Roby of Montgomery, who had been critical of Talton’s leadership, said those who presided over misconduct and negligence in the Central Alabama Veterans Healthcare System must be held accountable. “I don’t expect the director to be the last one fired, nor should he be,” she said.

Talton could not be reached for comment, but he can appeal the dismissal.

The Central Alabama VA has had a lengthy list of problems, which was mirrored in others VA hospitals across the country. They included long wait times for appointments, falsifying appointment records to mask the long waits, hundreds of X-rays going unread and a doctor cutting and pasting information from old medical records into new examination reports. It also had an employee remain on the payroll after taking a patient to a crack house to buy drugs.

Republican Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said, “I’m pleased the department has finally reached the same conclusion about James Talton that nearly every person familiar with CAVHCS’s problems came to long ago. It’s unfortunate, however, that VA’s action comes only after Talton was on paid leave for more than two months - an expense that can only be described as a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

The VA said in a statement that its action against Talton underscores its commitment to hold leaders accountable and get veterans the care they need. Since taking action against Talton in August, the VA has addressed problems by hiring staff and reducing wait times in Alabama and elsewhere.

The VA said it will recruit a new director. In the meantime, a VA official from the regional headquarters, Robin Jackson, is serving as acting director.

Roby’s forecast of more firings could come true soon. The VA announced Oct. 10 that it had begun termination proceedings against Dr. Cliff Robinson, who was put on paid administrative leave in August from his position as chief of staff at the Central Alabama VA.

Roby said the challenge facing the Central Alabama VA is changing a culture of complacency that led to a “consequence-free environment” where employees saw misconduct go unpunished.

The program operates major medical facilities in Montgomery and Tuskegee and clinics in Dothan, Fort Rucker and Monroeville, Alabama, and Columbus, Georgia, that serve about 42,000 veterans.

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