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How hard is it for a VA employee to get fired?

A sign marks the entrance to the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital on May 30, 2014 in Hines, Illinois. Hines, which is located in suburban Chicago, has been linked to allegations that administrators kept secret waiting lists at Veterans Administration hospital
A sign marks the entrance to the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital on May 30, 2014 in Hines, Illinois. Hines, which is located in suburban Chicago, has been linked to allegations that administrators kept secret waiting lists at Veterans Administration hospital
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

While there has been a lot of controversy over the Veterans Administration’s quality of care for veterans, too little coverage addresses the massive agency’s inability to discipline itself or its employees.

The problem was highlighted in a recent Montgomery Advertiser editorial; the newspaper serves Alabama’s second-largest city of the same name.

The newspaper poses a simple question: “What constitutes a firing offense in the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System, if indeed anything?”

The story emerged during a year-long VA investigation of a VA employee who allegedly drove a VA patient, who at that time was undergoing drug-addiction treatment, to a crack house, helped him to purchase illegal drugs, then left him there overnight. Local law enforcement identified the home as a “drug and prostitution den.” In addition to purchasing drugs, the man received oral sex, according to the report.

Ironically, the unnamed VA employee was a peer-support specialist in the agency’s drug-addiction treatment program when the alleged incident occurred. What’s worse, the VA employee borrowed $600 from the man, and was using a government vehicle for personal business - this according to an official review that was released in May 2013.

The investigation revealed that the employee had been granted permission to chauffer the patient for errands with an agency vehicle.

Beyond the crack house excursion, on another day,the employee received permission to take two patients to Montgomery on official business, but spent much of the day shopping for a new car — using a government vehicle to do so.

The employee collected $225 in overtime pay for that day, for which the VA investigation determined he was guilty of fraudulent overtime and illegal use of government resources for personal benefit.

While many combinations of government employee’s on-the-clock behavior might warrant his termination by a private employer, the VA worker is still collecting paychecks from the VA.

The patient left at the crack house eventually made his way back to the CAVHCS facility in Tuskegee the following day where he was discharged from the program after he tested positive for drug use.

The VA staffer was removed from contact with patients in the VA drug addiction treatment center in March 2013, and just this month the agency initiated undisclosed disciplinary action against him.

Bottom line, taxpayers are still paying his salary despite his behavior. Moreover, as a VA employee, he continues represent the organization and enjoy the fruits of his government job.