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Tax Dollars Pay Salary of VA Employee Moonlighting as Armed Robber

As an employer, if one of your workers was convicted of armed robbery, would you feel comfortable keeping them on your payroll? Here’s your access to our electronic system, and office key. . . .  Probably not, but hey – you’re not the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). You have standards. Also, to be fair, you’re not constrained by laws in place to protect an employee who happens to hit up a liquor store.

During a House committee hearing last week, current VA Health Under Secretary David Shulkin was challenged to explain why the VA continues to employ an individual charged with armed robbery at the VA Caribbean Healthcare System in Puerto Rico, in the social work department. First, Mr. Shulkin denied that the individual was still employed, but he changed his tune after some not-so-gentle prodding.

Despite missing a good deal of work because she was – er, required elsewhere – Ms. Robber still pulls a paycheck from the VA. And she’s not alone in her situation. A host of other VA employees at the same facility have been involved in serious crimes, including a convicted sex offender, and the hospital director, who was charged in 2014 with driving under the influence and possession of a controlled substance. Clearly, to protect its integrity and to maintain consistency, the VA did not want to treat Ms. Robber any differently. (In fact, her being “treated differently” from these other offenders was the winning argument in the hearing that resulted in her being reinstated). As such, we will continue to pay her salary with our tax dollars.

The VA told Congress – with a straight face – that how an employee entertains herself when she is off the clock is none of our business — even if it is blatantly illegal behavior endangering herself and others.

Even if we were to accept this argument, the fact of the matter is that when you are being tried for a crime, this takes a good deal of your time. Weeks, perhaps months. Maybe the employee was incarcerated and unable to show up for work for weeks at a time. That’s okay – the VA still held her job for her, while others working in her department were likely required to pick up the slack. They also compensated her with back pay.

And when she came back? Would you feel comfortable working with someone convicted of armed robbery, immediately after the conviction? (In this case, the employee entered a guilty plea for participating in the gunpoint robbery of a couple enjoying an evening stroll).

While the VA should be bashed for its decision to keep Ms. Robber on the payroll, the fact of the matter is that it is almost impossible to fire a federal employee. If the VA is not permitted to fire an employee due to constitutional protections in place, and it does it anyway, those pillars of our society can sue for their jobs back before the Merit Systems Protection Board (remember Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves?). And receive them, with back pay. This is not the case with private employers – so long as a contract doesn’t provide otherwise, and the employer is not discriminating in any way, the employer can fire an employee for something as simple as the employee not being a “good fit.”

When will it end? Last summer, the House passed the VA Accountability Act, but due to constitutional issues, it’s not likely to get past the President. Is there anything that can (or will) be done to stop the VA’s continued downward spiral?

*Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s legal blog on veteran and small business issues at: http://www.legalmeetspractical.com.

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2 Responses to “Tax Dollars Pay Salary of VA Employee Moonlighting as Armed Robber”

  1. This is hard to believe. Are their jobs really that secure? What the heck is going on in this world. If she goes to jail does the VA have to hold her job for her until she gets out?

  2. I think their jobs should be secure UNTIL they are found guilty and then they need to get their walking papers!!!

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