Federal judges reversed the demotions of top executives at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs who allegedly exploited a relocation program to receive more than $400,000 in salary increases and other perks.
The Veterans Benefits Administration senior executives, Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves, were demoted last month after a September VA inspector general report found that they forced lower-ranking managers to take job transfers so they could themselves fill the open positions and have less responsibility while keeping their high pay.
However, judges on the Merit Systems Protection Board reversed Graves’ demotion Friday and Rubens’ demotion Monday, according to the Military Times. The judges both made similar arguments that other higher-ranking VA officials knew what the executives were doing and didn’t stop them.
The reversals led a top VA official to defend Rubens and Graves and commend the Merit Systems Protection Board decisions, the Washington Examiner reported.
"We took two good people–they made an error in judgment," deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson told reporters Tuesday, alleging that the inspector general report exposing the executives’ behavior was not supported by evidence. "There are people who took this IG report and rolled it up and beat them over the head with it."
"To the extent that there was any misconduct here, both of these two individuals failed to extricate themselves from this matter, and that created the appearance of a conflict of interest," Gibson said.
He added that the VA will assign lesser punishments to Rubens and Graves now that their demotions have been reversed. Rubens, an official at the Philadelphia regional office, made an annual salary of $181,497, and Graves, an official at the St. Paul, Minnesota, regional office, made $173,949.
Concerned Veterans for America said in a statement that the reversal of the demotions proves that the VA does not have the will or ability to hold employees accountable for misconduct.
"The toxic culture at the VA, which has resulted in wait list scandals, retaliation against whistleblowers and now the defrauding of taxpayers, can only be fixed when government bureaucrats know they will be held accountable for their actions," the veterans group said.
CORRECTION: This article originally contained an incorrect quote from VA Secretary Sloan Gibson. Gibson said the employees in question made an error in judgment, not the VA.