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Fired' VA official escapes being fired, opts for early retirement

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Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald, testifies during a House Committee on Veterans' Affairs hearing on "Scheduling Manipulation and Veteran Deaths in Phoenix: Examination of the OIG's Final Report" on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

A top procurement officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs who might have been fired for misconduct has instead opted for early retirement, a move that will let her escape a formal decision on her removal.

Susan Taylor, the former deputy chief procurement officer who is accused to steering VA contracts to a specific company, also appears likely to escape with all the pension benefits that she racked up after 29 years of working in the federal government.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, run by Secretary Robert McDonald, has allowed a second VA official to retire instead of facing the possibility of being fired for misconduct. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Taylor's decision this week is just the latest example of VA workers escaping a harsher consequence for their misconduct that has included participation in the VA health care scandal. Earlier this month, Taylor was one of four VA officials that were "proposed for removal" for reasons related to unprofessional conduct, although one of those had already retired by the time the VA made that announcement.

Congress passed legislation earlier this year allowing the VA secretary to quickly fire VA workers if needed — a move that would immediately stop them from collecting a paycheck. But the VA has created a process that Congress didn't authorize, one that is giving employees time to retire if they wish before being officially fired.

Specifically, the VA has said senior executives that are "proposed for removal" have five days to submit a written reply to any recommendation that they should be fired or demoted. Taylor used that process to dodge a formal decision that she should be canned, and on October 14, she wrote a farewell letter to her colleges that made no mention of her possible termination.

"During my 4 years at VHA I have had the privilege of meeting many of you and have observed your dedication to improving procurement of supplies and services for veterans," she wrote. "It has been my privilege to work with you to meet that goal."

"However, after 29 years of federal service, I have decided to resign and retire, effective Oct. 14th," she added. Taylor encouraged staffers to keep up with their education, and said efforts by VA workers to get their master's degree would help them "grow and succeed."

Taylor followed John Goldman, the former director of the VA Medical Center in Georgia, who retired and left the VA days before the VA announced that it was thinking about firing him.

The seeming ease with which VA workers can avoid being fired is already worrying House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), who said the VA's internal process is letting these people escape a harsher punishment.

"Congress acted with near unanimity to give VA greater authority to actually fire failing executives, and the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act gives the department ample ability to do just that," Miller said in a statement to TheBlaze. "But by creating an added appeals process in which VA employees are given advance notice of the department's plans to fire them, the department appears to be giving failing executives an opportunity to quit, retire or find new jobs without consequence – something happening with increasing frequency."

"Quite simply, any VA administrator who purposely manipulated appointment data, covered up problems, retaliated against whistleblowers or who was involved in malfeasance that harmed veterans must be fired, rather than allowed to slip out the back door with a pension," he added. "If any laws or regulations are interfering with this concept, VA leaders must work with Congress so those laws and regulations can be changed."

Even if Taylor had been fired, she might still have been able to collect a pension. The Office of Personnel Management has indicated over the years that even officials fired for misconduct retain their right to retirement benefits.

However, a fired official can have more trouble finding a job at another agency. Taylor herself was being considered for a job at the Department of Energy, but had her offer rescinded after a report detailed her improper actions at the VA.

Under current federal law, government workers can opt for early retirement at any age and receive a pension once they have 25 years of government "service."

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