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Saga of latest 'fired' VA official isn't quite over yet, has right to appeal

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Veterans Affairs Secretary nominee Robert McDonald of Ohio listens to the opening statements during a Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearings to examine his nomination to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 22, 2014. (AP Photo) AP Photo

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Monday that it had "formally removed" Sharon Helman, former director of the Phoenix VA Healthcare System, from federal service.

That announcement led several members of Congress to praise the VA's decision — Helman had become the poster child for corrupt VA officials that purposely manipulated wait time data for veterans seeking health care. Helman had been put on administrative leave since May 1, which led to further criticism that she continue to receive a paycheck.

Veterans Affairs Secretary nominee Robert McDonald of Ohio listens to the opening statements during a Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearings to examine his nomination to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 22, 2014. (AP Photo) AP Photo Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald has decided to remove a second VA official, but that official gets to appeal that decision. (AP Photo)

Concerned Veterans for America even started a clock to show how long the VA failed to hold Helman accountable.

But like other officials removed under new procedures approved by Congress earlier this year, Helman has a right to appeal the decision and could be reinstated, even though she is not receiving a paycheck as of this week. A VA spokeswoman confirmed her right to appeal in an email to TheBlaze.

Under the new law, officials who the secretary decides to remove can appeal that decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board. Helman has seven days from the VA's decision to decide whether to appeal the ruling, and the MSPB would have 21 days to reach a decision.

While Helman's dismissal is not 100 percent certain at this point, the MSPB last week rejected an appeal from an Alabama VA official that was the first appeal it considered under the law. The body had initially signaled that it thinks the new law is unconstitutional, but it's decision to reject that appeal seems to be a sign that it is willing to carry out the law.

Members of the House and Senate said Helman's long-overdue removal is another positive sign that the VA is imposing consequences for officials involved in the health care scandal. But they said more need to be fired — the Alabama official is the only one to be fired under the new law.

"Sharon Helman's removal is a positive step, but there are still many more VA scandal figures who also must be purged from the department's payroll in order for veterans and families to receive the closure they deserve," said House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.).

"This action was long overdue, but it finally sends the message to our veterans and VA employees that misconduct and mismanagement will not be tolerated at the VA, and people will be held responsible," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). "The VA has a long way to go to win back veterans' trust, and to reform its operations to deliver timely, quality care, but today's action represents a positive step in the right direction."

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