Although it will not bring back the 40+ veterans who may have died while waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Administration hospital, the decision by Secretary Robert McDonald to fire Sharon Helman, director of the Phoenix facility, may bring their families some peace.
Helman, along with two other administrators, has been on administrative leave since May 1st when the first allegations came to light. In a news release, the VA said the decision to terminate Sharon Helman was made after “allegations of lack of oversight and other misconduct were substantiated.”
The investigation was undertaken by the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General. It found that Phoenix VA hospital staff falsified waiting lists, many times with the connivance of their supervisors. According to the Inspector General’s report, about 1,700 veterans were “at risk of being lost or forgotten” due to the practice and at least 40 patients died waiting for their appointments.
“This removal action underscores VA’s commitment to hold leaders accountable and ensure that Veterans have access to quality and timely care,” Secretary Robert A. McDonald said in a statement.
Politicians have weighed in on the decision. Arizona Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) said in a statement, “Firing Helman is the right decision and long overdue. The removal of Helman demonstrates that the VA has listened to our concerns and is serious about holding accountable those who put veterans at risk. Helman has been paid over $90,000 since being placed on administrative leave. This is a completely unacceptable use of taxpayer dollars that should instead go to providing care for veterans.”
Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake (both R-AZ) said, “We are encouraged by today’s announcement that the Department of Veterans Affairs has permanently removed Sharon Helman, the former Director of the Phoenix VA Healthcare System, from the public payroll. This action was long overdue, but it finally sends the message to our veterans and VA employees that misconduct and mismanagement will not be tolerated at the VA, and people will be held responsible.”
Helman had told the AP in May of this year, “I have never wavered from the ethical standards that I have held my entire career, and I will continue to give these veterans what they deserve, which is the best health care.”
Although the VA has a long way to go to regain the trust of the veterans who are under their care, this decision, along with the actions that Secretary McDonald and the upper management of the VA have recently taken, is the first step in the right direction.
The VA scandal has been a dark spot on the way our government views and treats the men and women who were willing to give everything for their country. Holding accountable the people who ignored or endangered these warriors for personal gain is the only right thing to do.
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