A Veterans Affairs executive on administrative leave over the patient wait time scandal says that if he done anything wrong, the VA would have fired him by now.
The statement from Lance Robinson, associate director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, submitted in written testimony through attorneys on Dec. 28 to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, contradicts VA's stated reason for not yet terminating Robinson. Robinson has been on administrative leave for almost two years.
Read and download the full testimony below
In the statement, attorneys from Shaw Bransford & Roth dispute the testimony of VA Under Secretary for Health, Dr. David Shulkin, who testified before the committee on Dec. 14 that the agency had not yet terminated Robinson because the U.S. Attorney’s Office had not cleared witnesses the VA wished to interview related to the case while a criminal investigation was ongoing.
Attorneys for Robinson contend that those statements are wrong and that the executive testified multiple times for VA officials on the issue of patient wait times and accusations of whistleblower reprisal made against him.
“The fact that the VA has not actually terminated Mr. Robinson is its own admission that he did nothing wrong," said Julia Perkins, Robinson’s attorney, in a statement.
“The VA has spent the last year and a half squandering taxpayer dollars on repeated internal investigations into the same unfounded allegations in an attempt to substantiate a baseless removal action. All this while, Mr. Robinson has been patiently waiting for the truth to come out. But after hearing yet another VA official give inaccurate and misleading information to Congress and to the public about him, Mr. Robinson couldn’t stay quiet any longer.”
VA officials were unavailable for comment at the time of publication.
Robinson was among several Phoenix VA officials suspended due to an ongoing scandal related to delayed health care for veterans at the Arizona hospital. He, along with two other Phoenix VA executives, was placed on administrative leave in May 2014 while the agency conducted an investigation into any wrongdoing related to the scandal. VA Deputy Chief of Staff Hughes Turner later issued a proposal to fire Robinson on May 30, 2014.
As part of U.S. statutes, Robinson was given 30 days prior notice to any firing, during which he could submit written responses to the VA. Robinson submitted responses on June 13, 2014, giving the agency the legal right to remove him no earlier than July 11, 2014.
Instead, the VA has kept Robinson on paid administrative leave ever since.
Robinson’s attorneys said Department of Justice officials informed him on April 22 that they would decline to prosecute him. Officials from the VA’s inspector general’s office then interviewed Robinson on June 9 and Oct. 21.
Perkins said that VA officials have had ample time and testimony from her client to render a decision, and unless it can justify firing Robinson, the agency should allow him to return to work.
“The VA’s inaction indicates that it has determined it cannot sustain a charge of misconduct against Mr. Robinson for wait list issues at the Phoenix VA before an independent adjudicator,” she said in the letter.
A VA spokesperson said in a statement that the agency will continue to examine the case thoroughly, with the rights of all parties in mind.
“Where issues require additional review and accountability actions, VA will act as necessary and pursue them and afford all concerned appropriate due process. Caring for our nation’s Veterans is the highest honor and privilege for the men and women who serve them at VA. Our mission is to provide timely access to earned health care and benefits for millions of Veterans. That is a responsibility that we do not take lightly.”
Robinson and Health Administration Services Chief Brad Curry remain on paid administrative leave.