- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee introduced a bill Tuesday to give the VA the power to go back and rescind improper bonuses paid out to employees, hoping to recover nearly $400,000 paid to two senior executives who orchestrated their own cushy transfers.

Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican, wrote the bill to be retroactive, meaning the VA could recapture the money paid to Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves, who investigators say manipulated the hiring process to secure posts in Philadelphia and St. Paul, Minnesota — and collected nearly $400,000 in relocation bonuses that shouldn’t have been paid. The inspector general said the two women pushed their predecessors out of the jobs to create the vacancies, then took the posts themselves, keeping their high salaries and collecting the relocation enticement money even though it violated the department’s rules.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald has since demoted the two employees, but kept them on staff and said he doesn’t have the power to reclaim the money.

Mr. Miller wants to change that.

“VA’s handling of this matter is akin to letting bank robbers off the hook with a mere slap on the wrist while allowing them to keep the stolen money,” he said. “If, as VA officials have claimed, the department truly lacks the legal authority to recoup the money Rubens and Graves benefitted from as part of their scheme, we aim to fix that with this bill. And if VA leaders are interested in justice being served, they will enthusiastically support this measure.”

A VA spokesperson said the agency had not had time to review the bill since it was just introduced.

The benefits scandal is another in a long line of embarrassments the beleaguered agency has faced in the past few years, including an inspector general report released early last year that said the Phoenix VA hospital had seen about 40 patient deaths because wait times were so long, and employees had been doctoring the lists to make the wait times seem shorter. The revelation led to Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation, and Mr. McDonald was appointed shortly after.

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