Rep. Schweikert: Placing VA Officials on Leave Is 'Right Step'

Friday, 02 May 2014 05:11 PM

By Joe Battaglia

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The decision to place top officials at a Phoenix veterans hospital on indefinite leave during an investigation into claims that delayed care at the facility may have led to the deaths of as many as 40 veterans was lauded by Arizona Rep. David Schweikert as being "the right step in the right direction."

On Thursday, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki announced that director Sharon Helman, associate director Lance Robinson and a third individual whose name and position were not disclosed, were put on administrative leave "until further notice" pending a "thorough" review by the agency's inspector general's office.

Schweikert told J.D. Hayworth on "America's Forum" on Newsmax TV that after he and fellow Arizona Reps. Matt Salmon and Trent Franks spoke with constituents, the three penned a letter to Shinseki asking for the removal of these three administrators.

"Last week was one of those weeks we were home and had a number of meetings with veterans and hearing their experience at the VA center, but also we met with some current and past staff," Schweikert explained. "Have you ever had that moment where you're walking away from the coffee and you realize that these people just no longer trust the system?

"Look, I don't want to jump to a conviction because I don't have all the data and information, but what I did have was an understanding of an absolute collapse of faith in the Phoenix VA hospital. That's why the handful of us called for that leadership to step aside."

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According to Schweikert, the House has taken a leading role in the investigation thus far, pursuing and documenting "disturbing stories" and then turning over nearly a year's worth of data collected to the Veteran Affairs Oversight Committee. He believes that action will continue.

"So much of this I believe is because of the work we did in the House of Representatives," he said. "If the VA IG wants to continue and do a quality investigation well, God bless him. But the House is not backing down."

The biggest issue, internally, Schweikert said is the inability to root out the individuals at fault and terminate them from their positions due to the influence of the government unions.

"We have a cultural problem though in the bureaucracies," he explained. "When you find people who – unless you're able to absolutely document malfeasance and misfeasance you can literally can never fire them. The rules we operate under are just outrageous because they ultimately they protect the bureaucracy and not the public.

"At what point, and with this administration, do the decisions they're making about those leadership of our agencies is it about politics? You know, the maintenance of their relationship with the unions and the political power and their political money? Or is it about protecting the public?"

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