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VA proposes removal of three senior officials in Phoenix two years after scandal

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

PHOENIX — The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Tuesday it has proposed removing three senior officials from their positions in Phoenix.

While the VA did not cite specific reasons for the proposal, Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson said it was issued after the department considered “a massive amount of evidence.”

“It is vitally important to veterans in Phoenix and across the nation to understand that we will take appropriate accountability action as warranted by the evidence,” Sloan said in a release.

The proposal calls for the removal of Associate Director Lance Robinson, Chief of Health Administration Service Brad Curry and Chief of Staff Dr. Darren Deering. All were working at the VA when a scandal involving extensive veteran wait times was uncovered.

Several Arizona leaders praised the VA’s decision.

“I welcome the VA’s actions to bring accountability to Phoenix,” Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) said in a release. “This is long overdue. Since the crisis broke, we’ve called for the removal of any VA employee who fails to meet the high standards of care our veterans have earned.”

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (R-Ariz.) echoed Sinema’s sentiments, saying the removal of the officials is a measure that does not go far enough.

“The system itself has failed our veterans, and we cannot rest until it is fixed,” Kirkpatrick said in a statement. “When every veteran has access to the timely, quality care he or she has earned, that’s when we will know it is fixed.”

The proposed removal of the three executives follows the 2014 firing of Sharon Helman, the hospital’s former director. Helman pleaded guilty last month to making false financial disclosures to the federal government about yearly gifts.

Helman, who oversaw the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix from 2012 to 2014, was fired after whistleblowers disclosed to Congress that veterans seeking appointments faced delays of up to a year and as many as 40 veterans died while waiting for care. Subsequent investigations found that veterans faced chronic delays for treatment and that VA officials in Phoenix and throughout the country had created secret waiting lists and other falsified records to cover up the delays.

The scandal affecting tens of thousands of veterans and prompted an outcry in Congress that continues as lawmakers and agency leaders struggle over how to improve the VA. A 2014 overhaul approved by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama has alleviated some of the problems, but the VA acknowledges that many problems remain.

Gibson said he was confident that the proposed removals would be upheld on appeal. At least three previous firings or other disciplinary actions taken by the VA have been overturned in recent weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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