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Sen. Jeff Flake introduces bill to fire all felons working within VA health care system

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

PHOENIX — U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) introduced a bill this week that would require the VA Health Care System to fire all employees who have been convicted of a felony.

The Clean Up the Department of Veterans Affairs Act would also require the agency to fire any employee who has had a medical license suspended or revoked.

Flake said nothing has stopped the VA from firing those people in the past, but it isn’t happening for several reasons.

“Personal relationships, and then also just not wanting to go through the hassles and worry about getting sued or whatever else,” said Flake. “For a variety of reasons, I think they’ve kept people on that simply shouldn’t be there.”

“In one case, they even gave (an employee) time off to serve their sentence, and then brought them back on,” Flake said. “We simply can’t do that if we hope to clean up an agency that has a lot of problems, this being just one of them.”

A statement from Flake’s office revealed several examples of VA employees being charged with or convicted of felonies.

They include:

  • A human resources employee and a health aid and technician at the Caribbean Veterans Affairs hospital are both convicted sex offenders.
  • Another VA employee participated in an armed robbery and was convicted and was given time off to serve her sentence. She then returned to work while on GPS-monitored probation. The VA later lied about her employment status to Congress.
  • A VA employee with a previous conviction for illegal firearm possession and known associate of drug traffickers was shot and killed with illegal gun in August.
  • The chief of staff at the Tomah VA Medical Center was on paid leave for nearly a year even though his medical license had been revoked.
  • In addition, one employee at the Phoenix VA Health Care System was indicted on charges that he embezzled more than $115,000 from a VFW post in Avondale. If convicted, that employee could be fired under this bill.

Flake added that more needs to be done to clean up the VA hospital in Phoenix, which was the focal point of problems three years ago when it was revealed that veterans were dying because of lengthy wait times to get medical attention.

Flake said progress has been made in Phoenix, but not enough.

“I’m not denying that things are better,” he said. “They certainly are (better) than they were 3 years ago. But when you see reports come out that internal evaluations still rate Phoenix very poorly, then you realize how far they have to go.”

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