Chairman of the House Veteran Affairs Committee Rep. Jeff Miller (R., Fla.) praised the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for "formally removing" the embattled director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, late Monday night, but said questions still remain.
"VA will never regain the trust of America’s veterans and American taxpayers until all of the corrupt senior executives who created the biggest scandal in the department’s history are held accountable to the maximum extent under the law," Miller said. "Sharon Helman's removal is a positive step, but there are still many more VA scandal figures who also must be purged from the department's payroll in order for veterans and families to receive the closure they deserve."
Helman was a key figure in the VA scandal that resulted in the resignation of then-Secretary Eric Shinseki. She was placed on administrative leave in early May, after whistleblowers claimed Helman facilitated an environment that encouraged administrators to maintain secret wait lists.
Despite months of pressure from lawmakers in the House and Senate, the VA resisted firing her. Monday’s announcement, while welcomed by lawmakers, gives little insight into why the agency had the capability to fire Helman today, when they were hamstrung earlier this month.
The VA previously maintained that they were unable to end her employment for administrative reasons and because the Department of Justice (DOJ) asked them to wait while investigations were ongoing.
The DOJ denied making that request in emails obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
The VA did not respond to requests for comment when asked to explain the procedural developments that resulted in Helman’s firing. A senior staffer on the House committee told the Free Beacon they asked the agency similar questions, but are also waiting for a response.
"VA has not given the Congress a straight answer when asked why they were not able to fire Helman previously," the staffer noted.
The VA said in a Monday statement that Helman’s removal exemplifies the agency’s "commitment to hold leaders accountable" and ensure veterans receive appropriate care.
"Lack of oversight and misconduct by VA leaders runs counter to our mission of serving veterans, and VA will not tolerate it," said Secretary Robert A. McDonald.
"We depend on VA employees and leaders to put the needs of Veterans first and honor VA’s core values of ‘Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence.’"
Helman is the fifth executive to be fired since the scandal began.