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Tick tock: 111 days later, former Phoenix VA official still getting paid

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald, speaks at the DAV 2014 National Convention on Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, in Las Vegas. McDonald, a former Procter and Gamble CEO who took the top VA post July 30, met with veterans during his Las Vegas visit. (AP Photo/David Becker) AP Photo/David Becker

The head of the Department of Veterans Affairs' broken health care clinic in Phoenix, Arizona is still being paid her $170,000 salary 111 days after being released in the wake of the VA health care scandal.

Concerned Veterans for America has launched a web page tracking how long Sharon Helman is still getting paid, despite constant promises from the VA that officials involved in the scandal will be held accountable.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald has yet to take any action against Sharon Helman, the head of the Phoenix VA health system who has been on paid leave for 111 days. (AP Photo/David Becker)

"Sharon Helman, the former Director of the Phoenix VA, is the poster girl for VA accountability," the group wrote on its web page. "Accusations of mismanagement including instances of manipulating patient data have followed at nearly every VA hospital she has run. CNN has even reported that her actions while running the Phoenix VA could have led to the death of up to 40 veterans either waiting for or receiving care there."

"If she worked at a private sector hospital, she would likely be in jail," the group added. "But since she's a government employee, she gets a paid vacation."

The VA's Office of Inspector General found that Helman pressured employees to manipulate wait time data for veterans, to give the appearance that veterans were not waiting that long for health appointments.

"Even worse, the VA has been less than transparent about when — or even if — she will be disciplined at all," the group wrote. "Sadly, the same is true for several other VA administrators that have been found to have engaged in misconduct."

Before leaving for the August break, Congress passed new legislation allowing the VA secretary to quickly fire or demote officials for bad conduct. But so far, Secretary Robert McDonald has not said he would use this new authority, and in fact has indicated his support for the vast majority of VA officials.

This week, the Merit Systems Protection Board released regulations for how it will adjudicate decisions from the VA secretary to fire or demote people. But the rule included language saying the MSPB thinks those rules violate the Constitution, a comment that could encourage federal employees to launch a legal challenge against the rule.

One last thing…
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