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VA Promises “Sustained Accountability” in Booting Wrongdoers

As announced via a press release, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has taken action against two senior officials in Cincinnati following a federal investigation into allegations of wrongdoing at Cincinnati’s VA Medical Center:

  • Network Director Jack Hetrick submitted his retirement after VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson proposed his removal as the agency’s highest-ranking VA official in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. Robert McDivitt was named yesterday as acting director of the regional Veterans Integrated Service Network.
  • Dr. Barbara Temeck, the hospital’s acting chief of staff, was reassigned to non-patient-care duties and her medical privileges were summarily suspended by VA Undersecretary for Health, David Schulkin. (Dr. Ralph Panos has replaced her as acting chief of staff). She could also face additional charges.

“We are committed to sustainable accountability,” said Gibson. “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.”

The VA said Dr. Temeck’s “salary and benefits remain unchanged” by Thursday’s action and Hetrick’s retirement package will not be reduced.

“Once the employee accrues enough years of service to retire, he or she can do so irrespective of any proposed or final removal action, and the calculation remains the same,” said VA Media Relations Director James Hutton.

Mr. Hetrick and Dr. Temeck were at the center of a Scripps News Washington Bureau and WCPO investigation into cost cutting and questionable management practices at the Cincinnati VA. The four-month investigation followed complaints raised by 34 current and former VA employees who had “urgent concerns about the quality care” at the facility. This triggered the federal probes.

Here are some of the Scripps-WPO findings (based on interviews and documents):

  • Services to veterans have been reduced, including spine and orthopedic surgeries, along with customized prosthetic services for artificial limbs.
  • Dr. Temeck prescribed controlled substances, even though she does not have a valid controlled substances license that would allow her to write prescriptions privately.
  • Dr. Temeck cut around-the-clock staffing by emergency airway specialists to save money, resulting in at least one close call involving a patient who could not breathe.
  • Dr. Temeck told operating-room staff they were being “too picky” when they reported surgical instruments delivered to operating rooms with blood and bone chips from previous surgeries.
  • Dr. Temeck is paid separately as a VA administrator and cardiothoracic surgeon, but whistleblowers say she has never served as the operating surgeon since coming to Cincinnati.

For those of you who have been following the other disciplinary actions (or, should I say, disciplinary attempts) against VA wrongdoers, I believe I share the majority opinion in saying that both of these individuals will likely retire quietly, pension and benefits in hand, rather than face criminal charges or any real accountability. Here’s to hoping the majority is wrong!

*Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s legal blog on veterans issues at http://www.legalmeetspractical.com. You can also follow her on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/legalmpractical.

**Sarah Schauerte is a veteran’s attorney and advocate whose practice is based near Atlanta, Georgia. She focuses on assisting veteran-owned small businesses thriven the federal marketplace. In addition to her role as an attorney, Sarah is a professional writer whose debut middle grade novel will be published in September of 2016.

One Response to “VA Promises “Sustained Accountability” in Booting Wrongdoers”

  1. Why am I not surprised? They need an unbiased outside source to audit them from the top down, with the power to fire and/or bring criminal charges, to investigate the VA System writ large!

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