Is the VA doing enough to deal with the relocation scam?

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is planning to suspend the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) acting chief Danny Pummill for 15 days without pay for permitting two employees to abuse the agency’s relocation process.

Kimberly Graves and Diana Rubens manipulated the VBA’s hiring system for their own benefit. The inspector general’s September report claimed they coerced lower-ranking regional managers into accepting job transfers. The two then filled the vacant positions themselves while reducing their responsibilities and maintaining their senior executive salaries. Besides their respective salaries of around $173,000 and $181,500 per annum, Graves and Rubens also got a combined total of over $400,000 in moving expenses.

Pummill is being suspended for “his alleged lack of oversight regarding Ms. Rubens’ and Ms. Graves’ actions in connection with their relocations,” according to a VA statement. He is allowed to appeal his suspension. The two employees will be reprimanded and receive a 10 percent pay cut. However, both Rubens and Graves have returned to their respective former positions as head of the VBA Philadelphia regional office and director of the benefits office in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Regarding Rubens and Graves, Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said he was “encouraged by their immediate effort to get back to work.” However Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman, was vocal in his criticism of the VA’s actions in response to the relocation scam.

Miller described the punishments as “a weak slap on the wrist.” He called for more accountability, saying the two employees should have been fired instead. “One thing is clear: this dysfunctional status quo will never change until we eliminate arcane civil service rules that put the job security of VA bureaucrats ahead of the veterans they are charged with serving.”

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