The Department of Veterans Affairs appears to have been caught telling yet another lie to members of Congress, this time over whether the VA has the authority to fire a disgraced official from the Phoenix VA system.
According to House aides, the VA has said it can't fire Sharon Helman, the notorious director of the Phoenix system who was put on paid leave in May for her role in the VA health care scandal. The VA has argued that the Department of Justice has said it must complete its own investigation into Helman's activities before the VA can fire her.
The Department of Veterans Affairs, run by Secretary Robert McDonald, has been caught in another flap with Congress, this time over whether it has the authority to fire people without permission from the Department of Justice. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
But an email seen by TheBlaze shows that the Justice Department doesn't care if Helman is fired, which is raising questions about why the VA has said Justice is a hurdle to her firing.
Late last week, a House staffer emailed the Justice Department about the matter. "The department has responded that the DoJ has asked VA to defer any adverse personnel action against Ms. Helman pending resolution of a DoJ criminal investigation," the staffer wrote.
The email asked how firing Helman might affect Justice's investigation. But in a Monday reply, Justice wrote back to say it doesn't care if Helman were fired or not.
"The Department of Justice takes no position concerning whether the employment matters you mention below should proceed or be stayed," the email said.
That position goes against what the VA has told Congress, as well as what the VA has said publicly about whether or when it can fire Helman or others. Last week, VA Secretary Robert McDonald said he "can't take disciplinary action when the Department of Justice is still conducting an investigation."
While the Justice Department's email indicates the VA has been shading the truth at the very least, the VA defended itself by saying it wants to see as much information as possible before making personnel decisions.
"In each case, we'll await the evidence collected and facts found by the investigators, and will take the appropriate disciplinary action when all the facts and evidence are known," a VA spokeswoman told TheBlaze.
Still, that answer dodges the question of why the VA said it had no ability to fire Helman because of the Justice Department's involvement. It has also left House members wondering if the VA will ever decide to fire Helman.
"The VA already proposed that Helman be fired in May," one House aide said. "So do they want her gone or not?"
The VA is building up something of a reputation for lying to Congress. Over the summer, Reps. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) said VA staff lied to him about problems in facilities in his home state.
Around the same time, Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) said VA officials lied to her about whether staff involved in the VA health care scandal had been fired.
Back in May, a House Democrat exploded on the House floor, saying VA officials lied to him and other members about the frequency of suicides at facilities in Georgia. "They told a damn lie!" Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) bellowed.