VA fires 3 more senior officials at troubled Phoenix hospital

The Veterans Affairs Department has formally fired three senior leaders within the Phoenix VA Health Care System, the medical center where wait time scandals first erupted and led to an overhaul of VA leadership.

After announcing its intent to remove them in March, the VA is firing Lance Robinson, the facility’s associate director, Brad Curry, chief of the health administration service, and Dr. Darren Deering, the center’s chief of staff.

“We have an obligation to veterans and the American people to take appropriate accountability actions as supported by evidence,” Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said in a statement. “While this process took far too long, the evidence supports these removals and sets the stage for moving forward.”

The employees were fired for failing to ensure that veterans were properly scheduled or put on an appropriate waiting list to receive care, the VA said.

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As Title 5 employees, Robinson and Curry can both appeal their removals to the Merit Systems Protection Board. They have 30 days from the effective date of their firing to appeal.

Deering, a Title 38 employee, can submit a grievance through the VA’s administrative process if he wants to appeal his removal.

The VA fired the director of the Phoenix medical center, Sharon Helman, in November 2014.

Roughly 2,900 employees have been fired at the VA since Secretary Bob McDonald assumed office in 2014.

The Phoenix hospital has been under intense scrutiny after reports of wait time manipulation came to light. At the time, a report from the VA inspector general found that about 1,700 veterans were at risk of being kept off the hospital’s official waiting list. Veterans on average waited nearly 115 days for their first appointment at the Phoenix hospital — roughly five times longer than the 24-day wait time the medical center originally reported.

Since Congress passed an overhaul to the department’s procedures for disciplining senior executives under the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act in 2014, MSPB has reviewed five appeals cases from VA leaders. The Board overturned three of them, sparking some debate among members of Congress and VA.

Some health professionals within the VA could soon lose their rights to appeal to MPSB, according to new legislation now under consideration in the Senate.

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