Military Connection: VA Ordered to Repay Fired Director’s Bonus

Phoenix VA

By Debbie Gregory

A judge ruled that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) repay $5,624 in garnished wages to the disgraced former-director of the VA’s Phoenix clinic.

In 2014, the VA was hit with several blows from a scandal that originated in Phoenix and ignited a powder keg in the media, prompting major personnel changes throughout the VA, and new legislation in Washington. Entire news segments were dedicated to unsatisfactory services and conditions provided by the VA at its Phoenix area clinic, and throughout the country.

Veterans were subjected to wait times for appointments that were months, even years long. Furthermore, VA employees were ordered by their supervisors to cover up the illegal and appalling wait times by hiding them in separate wait lists that VA inspectors would not find.

The Director of the Phoenix clinic, before the scandal broke, was Sharon Helman. The VA relieved Helman of her duties in April, 2014, and attempted to fire her after audits found that secret patient wait lists were in use at the Phoenix clinic. At the time, the VA was told by an appeals judge that they did not have proper grounds to fire Helman for hiding wait times. But the VA also found that Helman had illegally received gifts, including tickets to a Beyonce concert and a trip to Disneyland, for which they were able to fire her.

The VA notified Helman that it would be taking back the $9,000 she received as a bonus for “good performance.” Helman told the VA that she wanted to request a hearing to dispute the move. In the meantime, from August until her ultimate firing in November, the VA was taking the money from her pay.

On February 25th, Judge Alan R. Caramella, a civil service administrative law judge, ruled that the VA must “return the money it has offset from Ms. Helman’s salary until I issue a final decision.”

Judge Caramella’s decision is a blow to VA efforts at accountability for the scandal at a key time.

The VA did not comment on the Helman bonus decision, but said that it is moving ahead with its stated reform efforts that began last summer, and is still looking into personnel and conduct at the facilities in Phoenix.

Many Veterans in Phoenix, and around the country, are upset about the judge’s decision. But the Veteran community hopes that justice will ultimately be served, and Helman will be forced to repay the bonus.

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Military Connection: VA Ordered to Repay Fired Director’s Bonus: By Debbie Gregory