VA regional director retires after federal investigations find ‘substantive misconduct’

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WASHINGTON (Feb. 25, 2016) – The Veterans Affairs regional network director, in charge of overseeing Indiana veterans while being investigated in Cincinnati, abruptly retired Thursday after the VA recommended he be removed from his position.

In a prepared news release, the VA said preliminary results of two federal investigations at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center warranted the agency to remove Jack Hetrick from his job.

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

Indiana lawmakers had raised serious questions this week about why Hetrick continued to oversee VA facilities in Indiana during the ongoing investigation.

Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.), a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, isn’t satisfied with the decision.

“In classic VA fashion, instead of taking real action they’ve allowed a bad employee to take early retirement and continue to receive benefits for irreprehensible actions. There is no justification for forcing bad bureaucrats to retire instead of showing them the door. Once again, this just proves there is still a long way to go until we see true accountability at the VA.”

In a statement Thursday, Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) said:

“I commend the VA for taking this important step to ensure our veterans remain the department’s top priority.”

Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.), whose office has received complaints about the Cincinnati medical center, was critical of the VA’s handling of Hetrick:

“Allowing Mr. Hetrick to retire—likely with full benefits and a pension— is not holding him accountable.   It’s absurd that a VA investigation revealed Mr. Hetrick was involved in misconduct and possibly broke the law, yet he wasn’t fired.  It’s past time for the Obama Administration to end this cycle of dysfunction at the VA.   Our veterans and our taxpayers deserve better.”

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) said he has been personally in contact with VA Secretary Bob McDonald throughout the investigation.

“I’ve spoken with Secretary McDonald about the situation at the Cincinnati VA, and I expect the Department of Veterans Affairs to continue taking aggressive action to hold their leaders accountable.”

Reports of misconduct inside the Cincinnati VA medical center prompted the two federal investigations, addressing allegations of cost-cutting affecting quality of care and claims that drugs were improperly prescribed.

Tied into the investigation was Hetrick, who oversaw VA facilities in Indiana, including Fort Wayne, Marion, and Indianapolis, as part of a nationwide consolidation effort. As of October, Hetrick was in charge of overseeing the care of 500,000 veterans throughout the lower peninsula of Michigan, Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Indiana.

But in light of the federal investigations launched earlier this month, Hetrick’s oversight authorities had been removed only in Cincinnati.

An initial investigation by WCPO-TV in Cincinnati reported investigators were looking into Cincinnati’s Chief of Staff, Dr. Barbara Temeck, and accusations she prescribed highly-addictive pain medication to the wife of Hetrick.

The VA announced Thursday, officials removed Temeck from her current position as well, “pending appropriate administrative action.”

The VA said it found “substantiate misconduct” by both Hetrick and Temeck “related to Temeck’s provision of prescriptions and other medical care to members of Hetrick’s family.”

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, echoed Messer and Walorski’s concerns.

“A VA investigation has already substantiated that both employees committed serious misconduct in violation of multiple VA regulations and quite possibly the law, yet both of these individuals are still collecting taxpayer-funded paychecks.”

The VA said a potential criminal investigation could follow.

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