VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson said, "We are committed to sustainable accountability."

VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson said, "We are committed to sustainable accountability." Robert Turtil / VA

VA Tries to Punish Senior Leaders in Cincinnati for Misconduct

Department proposed firing Jack Hetrick, but he retired; Dr. Barbara Temeck has been reassigned pending further discipline.

The Veterans Affairs Department on Thursday moved to punish two senior leaders accused of misconduct in Ohio as part of its ongoing effort to improve accountability at the VA.

Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson proposed firing Jack Hetrick, the Veterans Integrated Service Network director for Region 10, which includes Cincinnati. But Hetrick retired on Thursday. Dr. Barbara Temeck, acting chief of staff at the Cincinnati Medical Center, has been reassigned to non-patient-care duties pending “appropriate administrative action,” according to a VA press release.

A Feb. 16 news report from Scripps and WPCO detailed whistleblower claims that alleged Temeck shortchanged vets’ quality of care to save money and improperly prescribed Valium and another controlled substance to Hetrick’s wife. Temeck and Hetrick are longtime professional colleagues, and Hetrick, as director of Region 10, was Temeck’s boss.

VA’s Office of Medical Inspector and Office of Accountability conducted a review of the allegations at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center from Feb. 9-11, and did not substantiate accusations that Temeck “directed the referral of veterans for care in the community as a cost-shifting mechanism, resulting in poor quality of care,” according to the press release. But the department did substantiate “misconduct by both Hetrick and Temeck related to Temeck’s provision of prescriptions and other medical care to members of Hetrick’s family.” Temeck did not have a valid license to prescribe the medication to Hetrick’s wife, according to the news report and the VA’s investigation. The VA inspector general accepted a referral from the department for a possible criminal investigation.

“We are committed to sustainable accountability,” said Gibson in a statement. “We will continue to use VA’s statutory authority to hold employees accountable where warranted by the evidence. That is simply the right thing to do for veterans and taxpayers.”

The news report also stated that Temeck had been receiving two salaries at the same time, one for the acting chief of staff job, and another for her work as a thoracic surgeon. Whistleblowers alleged that Temeck only assisted in the operating room, and never worked as a surgeon at the Cincinnati facility.

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said despite the punishment, both Hetrick and Temeck “are still collecting taxpayer-funded paychecks,” and in a statement, criticized the federal personnel system. “Almost every day we are reminded that the federal civil service system is designed to coddle and protect corrupt and incompetent employees, and that the Obama administration’s refusal to address this dysfunctional status quo is doing real harm to veterans and taxpayers.”

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, asked the VA IG on Feb. 17 to “undertake a swift and independent investigation of these matters, including not only reports of substandard clinical care, but also potential mismanagement and misconduct by the leadership of the hospital and the department officials in charge of overseeing it.”