House Panel Wants Answers on VA’s Use of Paid Administrative Leave, Union 'Hit List'

House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., wrote a letter seeking answers. House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., wrote a letter seeking answers. AP file photo

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee is pressing the Veterans Affairs Department on the status of employees on paid administrative leave -- and what the department plans to do with a union report alleging egregious behavior by several supervisors.

“Please provide a by-name list of every VA employee currently on administrative leave longer than 14 consecutive days, to include duty location, job title, grade level, the reason the employee is on administrative leave and the date the leave started,” said an Oct. 26 letter from Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., to VA Secretary Bob McDonald. Miller also asked the secretary for the total amount of money the department has spent on administrative leave for each of the last three fiscal years. According to the letter, the committee has been asking for that information since July 28, 2014. That’s around the time McDonald was confirmed as secretary.

The four-page letter specifically asked about the status of Brad Curry and Lance Robinson, employees of the Phoenix VA Health Care System. The committee said they have been on paid leave since May 1, 2014. The panel also wanted to know about Philadelphia VA regional office employees Lucy Filipov and Gary Hodge, who have been on paid leave since June 2015. Curry and Robinson were top officials working at the facility at the center of the wait time manipulation scandal. Filipov and Hodge got into hot water for ethics violations, not misconduct related to serving vets.

Miller also wants information related to Frederick Kevin Harris, a nursing assistant at the Alexandria, La., VA Health Care System, who was charged with manslaughter in December 2013 in the death of a patient. “Please provide an update regarding Harris’ employment status with VA,” said the letter. “If he remains an employee, please outline what his job duties and responsibilities are.”

The committee said the department has not yet responded to its requests for information in the Oct. 26 letter.

“We will respond to the chairman once appropriate actions are complete on the individuals listed in his letter,” wrote James Hutton, VA director of media relations, in an email responding to questions from Government Executive. “It is important that our response is thorough, as it applies to specific actions administered by the department, and respects the rights of the employees listed in the letter in order for any administrative actions to be upheld.”

Another issue in limbo is what Secretary McDonald plans to do with a July report compiled by American Federation of Government Employees Local 17, allegedly at McDonald’s request. The 40-page report details alleged incidents of harassment, discrimination, bullying and incompetence by “disruptive and ineffective” managers who work in VA’s Central Office. Miller again asked in the Oct. 26 letter for the status of the department’s “investigation started and when you expect it to be complete.” The committee first ask for an unredacted copy of the report in July. Government Executive received a redacted copy of the report through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Hutton did not respond directly to questions about the status of the union report. “VA’s goal continues to be strengthening its culture of accountability and putting renewed focus on employee-led, veteran-centric change,” Hutton said. “Improvements in workforce culture, with a focus on ICARE values, will allow VA to address issues as they arise, rather than necessitating employee termination following repeated and/or pervasive poor behavior.”

Last week, the Senior Executives Association and Federal Managers Association sent McDonald a letter citing a “growing concern on the status of labor-management relations at the VA,” and asking that he give “little creedence [sic]” to the report. SEA and FMA have called the union’s report a ‘hit list.’

“We ask that you examine the personnel records of those managers and supervisors listed in the report before any actions are taken,” the groups wrote. “We call upon you to examine charges filed against them and the failure to find supportive evidence.”

SEA and FMA said they had been contacted by several managers named in the report. “While they corroborated the fact that complaints have been filed against them, complaints were often found to be unsubstantiated. Because these managers and supervisors had repeated, yet groundless, accusations against them, FMA and SEA worry that instead of thoughtfully examining constructive means to improve VA, Local 17 is personally targeting managers and supervisors and perpetuating labor-management hostility,” the letter stated.

The groups also said that since the report surfaced, they have heard from “several VA managers and supervisors who have been verbally threatened and harassed by union representatives and members.”

Some of the allegations against the managers detailed in the report are specific examples of abuse or intolerance, while others are more general criticisms of managers’ leadership abilities and communication skills.

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