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Key Figure in Veterans Affairs Scandal Fired from Phoenix Office

Monday, 24 Nov 2014 08:59 PM

Nov 24 (Reuters) - The director of the Veterans Affairs Department healthcare system in Phoenix, a central figure in the scandal surrounding prolonged delays faced by former members of the Armed Forces in receiving medical treatment, was fired on Monday, the agency said.

Sharon Helman had been put on administrative leave pending the outcome of an inquiry by the VA's inspector general into allegations that routinely lengthy wait times for care at the Phoenix VA hospital and clinics had been covered up and may have led to deaths.

The decision to formally remove Helman follows an investigation "in which allegations of oversight and other misconduct were substantiated," the VA said in a statement announcing her dismissal.

The inspector general's report, which was released in late August, found that while some 1,400 veterans were on official electronic waiting lists, more than 3,500 additional former servicemen and women were on hidden waiting lists.

The probe concluded that VA officials in Phoenix sought to mask the months-long delays in delivering care to meet two-week targets used in awarding salary and bonus awards.

U.S. Representative Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Veterans' Affairs, has said that Helman received an $8,500 bonus in April, the month before she was placed on leave.

While the report said that "clinically significant" delays were documented by the investigation, it could not substantiate an allegation leveled by a whistleblower that 40 veterans had died while waiting for care.

The scandal unfolded in the midst of an election year in which Republicans congressional candidates tapped into voter discontent over perceived government ineptitude on a number of fronts to seize control of the U.S. Senate from Democrats and strengthen their majority in the House.

The VA controversy also prompted former Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign in May. He was replaced by Robert McDonald, who said in announcing Helman's removal: "Lack of oversight and misconduct by VA leaders runs counter to our mission of serving veterans, and the VA will not tolerate it."

Miller welcomed Helman's removal as a "positive step," but said others remain to "be purged from the department's payroll." Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake jointly issued a similar statement.

Neither Helman nor any representative were immediately available for comment. There was no word on the fate of two lower-ranking Phoenix VA officials placed on leave with Helman. (Reporting by Steve Gorman from Los Angeles; Editing by Eric Walsh)

© 2017 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

   
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