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VA moves to fire three more Phoenix executives in scandal

Matthew Daly Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Three more executives are being fired from the troubled Phoenix veterans hospital where a national scandal erupted two years ago over secret waiting lists and unnecessary deaths, the Department of Veterans Affairs said.

Dr. Darren Deering, the hospital’s chief of staff; Lance Robinson, the hospital’s associate director; and Brad Curry, chief of health administration services, were all formally proposed for removal from the VA on Tuesday. The officials will be able to challenge their dismissals under VA rules.

Robinson and Curry had recently returned to work at the VA after being placed on leave in May 2014 as the wait-time scandal emerged.

Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said he was disappointed that it took so long for the executives to be removed, but said the firings should help VA “move past” the wait-time scandal that has consumed the agency for nearly two years.

The high-profile Phoenix cases “have served as a distraction to the progress being made to improve the care we provide in Phoenix and across the nation,” Gibson said. “Today marks an important step in moving past the events of the past and refocusing solely on caring for our nation’s veterans.”

Attempts to reach the executives or other officials at the Phoenix VA hospital were unsuccessful Tuesday evening.

The removal of the three executives follows the 2014 firing of Sharon Helman, the hospital’s former director. Helman pleaded guilty last month to making false financial disclosures to the federal government about yearly gifts.

Helman, who oversaw the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix from 2012 to 2014, was fired after whistleblowers disclosed to Congress that veterans seeking appointments faced delays of up to a year and as many as 40 veterans died while waiting for care. Subsequent investigations found that veterans faced chronic delays for treatment and that VA officials in Phoenix and throughout the country had created secret waiting lists and other falsified records to cover up the delays.

The scandal affected tens of thousands of veterans and prompted an outcry in Congress that continues as lawmakers and agency leaders struggle over how to improve the VA. A 2014 overhaul approved by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama has alleviated some of the problems, but the VA acknowledges that many problems remain.

Gibson said he was confident that the latest firings would be upheld on appeal. At least three previous firings or other disciplinary actions taken by the VA have been overturned in recent weeks.

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