Of all the problems with our federal government, at least rampant corruption is missing from the list, right?
Not if you take a peek into the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Long hidden behind the sacrosanct shell that surrounds the agency, the VA has recently been exposed as one of the most crooked departments in the entire government.
Fortunately, the new president is not continuing the recent Oval Office tradition of ignoring this branch of the Cabinet. Heads are already starting to roll. Less than a week into the new administration, two of the more egregiously corrupt VA employees now find themselves without a job.
Allegations of incompetence and outright fraud have plagued the VA for years. In 2014, the situation was deteriorating so badly that President Obama was forced to open an investigation into reports that veterans were dying while waiting for appointments. This inquiry turned up a serious breach of integrity on the part of several senior leaders in the department. Though not personally found guilty of any malfeasance, former Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs Eric Shinseki was forced to resign.
Announcing his departure, Mr. Shinseki stated:
I can’t explain the lack of integrity among some of the leaders of our healthcare facilities … This is something I rarely encountered during my 38 years in uniform. I cannot defend it because it is indefensible. But I can take responsibility for it, and I do.
It is truly a shame that Secretary Shinseki’s boss did not feel the same way and decide to follow his disgraced deputy out the door. No surprise there, since the former president apparently saw fit to meet with his loyal secretary just once during the entire scandal.
With a new sheriff in town, the situation at the VA is already starting to improve. While there were a few firings after the 2014 scandal, these did not go nearly far enough in fixing the department. The two employees fired as Donald Trump entered the White House are notoriously crooked. The fact that they were terminated only recently speaks volumes about the lack of commitment in the prior administration to clean up the agency.
The most relevant part of this whole story is the history surrounding one of those two employees, Elizabeth Rivera. Because she had previously been involved in an armed robbery, she was used as an example of the personnel problems plaguing the VA during a 2016 Congressional hearing. When asked about Ms. Rivera’s employment status, Under Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs for Health David Shulkin testified that he was unsure of her current standing. He later clarified that she was, in fact, still employed by the VA because “In accordance with federal law, criminal prosecution or conviction for off-duty misconduct does not automatically disqualify an individual from federal employment.” Wow.
This is the same David Shulkin who was just nominated by President Trump to be the Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs. It would seem that Mr. Shulkin’s new boss is giving him a second chance to redeem himself. Since the department is now actually empowered to drain the cesspool that festered during President Obama’s reign, we hope Secretary Shulkin follows through on what President Trump started.