WASHINGTON (March 1, 2016) – Action is being demanded after a top Department of Veterans Affairs official involved in misconduct was allowed to retire with benefits intact.
“That’s Washington bureaucratic kind of cover-up stuff and Hoosiers are tired of it,” Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) said in an interview with CBS4.
Jack Hetrick oversaw the care of more than 500,000 veterans in parts of Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana as the network regional director of the Veterans Integrated Service Network 10.
The VA was investigating Hetrick for his management of the VA medical Center in Cincinnati, and last week the investigation revealed misconduct by Hetrick, along with the center’s chief of staff.
VA officials recommended Hetrick be removed from his position, but he was allowed to retire.
“This is part of the problem that we’ve been talking about with no accountability with the VA,” Walorski said. “That you can actually be involved in all kinds of wrongdoing, enough wrongdoing to actually be dismissed from your job and have all your authority taken away. But then they let you retire with all your benefits. And don’t forget these are tax dollars.”
Those federal benefits include social security, annuity and a thrift savings plan, which is somewhat similar to a 401K in the private sector.
“Frankly I think it’s outrageous he was allowed to retire,” Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.) said.
Walorski, who sits on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said last summer lawmakers proposed giving greater authority to the VA to fire bad executives. The measure, though, has stalled in the Senate.
“The Senate needs to take action on this bill precisely for moments like this,” she said. “When you have this over-the-top wrongdoing and folks dismissed from their jobs, and they go off into the sunset with their retirement. That does not happen in the real world.”
Congressman Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) wants to go even further. He’s drafting legislation that would classify all federal government employees as "at will," which would give greater authority to either fire or reward federal employees immediately.
“This goes back to something that’s a foundational problem in the federal government,” he said. “And that is we cannot fire people when they do bad things.”
Rokita, who called the proposal “radical” knows this type of sweeping legislation will be a tough sell.
“I’ll even have some Republican opposition on that,” he said. “Because the truth be told, Republicans that have districts where there’s a lot of federal employees on the East Coast will be very sensitive to this. But we’ll introduce it in the right way.”
Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.) will receive a briefing on the Cincinnati investigation Wednesday, along with other VA-related issues.
Messer said he will press officials to ensure the transition to a new network regional director, overseeing hundreds-of-thousands of veterans, will not impact care.
“This is a problem that’s gone on far too long,” he said. “It’s way past time to fix it. We need to get the VA under control and we need to make sure our veterans are getting quality care.”