VA continues cleaning house of troubled execs

Two senior leaders at a Cincinnati veterans hospital are under investigation after Department of Veterans Affairs officials found evidence of misconduct related to prescriptions and medical care.

Jack Hetrick, the Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN 10) director and Dr. Barbara Temeck, acting Chief of Staff at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center, were named in a preliminary investigation by VA’s Office of Medical Inspector and the Office of Accountability, according to a Feb. 25 statement.

VA’s Undersecretary for Health, Dr. David J. Shulkin, “suspended Temeck’s privileges and detailed her to non-patient-care duties,” while Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson proposed Hetrick’s removal. Hetrick, however, submitted his retirement on Feb. 25, according to the VA.

“We are committed to sustainable accountability,” Gibson said.  “We will continue to use VA’s statutory authority to hold employees accountable where warranted by the evidence. That is simply the right thing to do for Veterans and taxpayers.”

According to the VA, the OMI and OAR conducted a site visit to the Cincinnati medical center Feb. 9-11, “to investigate allegations of professional misconduct on the part of Temeck along with allegations that she directed the referral of veterans for care in the community as a cost-shifting mechanism, resulting in poor quality of care.”

Investigators did not find any evidence to support the claims about the referrals or quality of care, but did find evidence to “substantiate misconduct by both Hetrick and Temeck related to Temeck’s provision of prescriptions and other medical care to members of Hetrick’s family. VA OIG has accepted VA’s referral of the substantiated allegations for potential criminal investigation.”

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, expressed frustration with VA in a statement, calling on the agency “to get in step with Congress, veterans and taxpayers and get behind commonsense congressional proposals like the House-passed VA Accountability Act, which would enable VA to quickly purge corrupt and incompetent employees from the payroll and prevent convicted felons from sneaking out the back door with full taxpayer-funded pensions.”

“A VA investigation has already substantiated that both employees committed serious misconduct in violation of multiple VA regulations and quite possibly the law, yet both of these individuals are still collecting taxpayer-funded paychecks,” Miller said.

VA consistently has been at the sharp end of pointed words from lawmakers, and the disciplinary actions are the latest in a steady stream of announcements out of VA regarding employee misconduct and agency reform.

Agency leaders are proposing changes to the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 (Choice Act), mostly through legislation that would strip agency senior executives of their rights to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board when they face disciplinary action.

Three VA senior executives had their punishments overturned by MSPB in the past month.

Gibson also announced earlier this month that VA had launched an investigation on four senior executives at the agency to reconsider possible disciplinary actions. Gibson issued orders to review actions for Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves, senior employees who were accused of taking advantage of an agency relocation program.

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