VA officials Rubens, Graves demoted
By DIANNA CAHN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 20, 2015
Two senior Department of Veterans Affairs officials accused of scamming the hiring system in the agency for financial gain were demoted Friday, the VA said in a statement released late in the day.
Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves were both accused of acquiring their jobs as regional office directors for the Veterans Benefits Administration after manipulating the system to create vacancies in hard to fill areas and then receiving nearly $400,000 in relocation benefits.
The VA Inspector General made criminal referrals to the Department of Justice for Rubens, who was director of the Philadelphia Regional Office, and Graves, who was director of the St. Paul Regional Office.
Both were demoted to assistant director positions at other regional offices and will return to work immediately, the statement said.
The minor punishments for the two executives were met with outrage from veterans advocates.
“For those wondering whether VA is committed to real accountability for corrupt employees, VA leaders answered that question today with a resounding ‘no,’” said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., who chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.
“Rubens and Graves clearly should have been fired,” Miller said in a statement. “The fact that VA leaders refused to do so gives me no hope the department will do the right thing and take steps to recover the more than $400,000 taxpayer dollars Rubens and Graves fraudulently obtained.”
A committee staffer said the VA is not taking steps to recoup the relocation benefits and both executives will continue to earn well over $100,000 a year.
The case of the two executives is just the latest embarrassment at a department that has been fraught with scandal. More than year ago, revelations emerged that patients at the VA were dying while lingering on secret wait lists at the Phoenix VA Medical Center. The scandal led to former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation, but many lawmakers say reform is taking too long.
Rubens and Graves appeared before the House committee earlier this month, but invoked their Fifth Amendment right to not answer questions to protect themselves against self incrimination. Both had to be subpoenaed after refusing to appear in October.
At the hearing, Rubens’ and Graves’ predecessors in Philadelphia and St. Paul both testified that they’d been pressured to leave the posts that the two women filled. Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits Danny Pummill assured committee members that the two would be punished.
Dale Barnett, national commander of the country’s largest veterans service organization American Legion, said in a statement Friday that the decision dashed hopes after the hearing that the VA was “finally understanding the need to hold people accountable.”
“This is an insult and disgrace to all veterans,” Barnett said. “Any promises that VA officials make about accountability in the future need to be taken with a grain of salt.”
VA officials did not respond to emails seeking comment.
Miller noted that the VA will not even recoup the $8,000 bonus Graves received this year.
“Because of the department’s failure to adequately hold employees accountable in this and many other situations, VA is being forced to tolerate corruption, malfeasance and incompetence within its ranks. As a result it remains under the shadow of perpetual scandal,” Miller said.
“The millions of American veterans who depend on VA and the hundreds of thousands of VA employees who are dedicated professionals deserve better than this broken status quo,” he added. “But until VA leaders make a commitment to supporting real accountability – something they have refused to do thus far – efforts to reform VA are doomed to fail.”
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., listens during a Nov. 2, 2015 hearing at which Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves refused to answer questions. Miller reacted to the news of the two VA officials' demotions on Nov. 20 by saying that they "clearly should have been fired."