By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Someone has finally lost their job in the VA scandal that plagued dozens of Veterans Administration hospitals across the country. On Friday, October 24, former Central Alabama Veterans Health Care Systems (CAVHCS) director James Talton has been officially terminated for his alleged failures in leadership at CAVHCS. U.S. Representatives Martha Roby and Bradley Byrne commented on the Department of Veterans Affairs action to terminate former Director James Talton.
Director Talton was placed on administrative leave in August and then “proposed” for termination pending review earlier this month, all while continuing to be paid. On Friday, his termination action became official.
Representative Martha Roby (R from Montgomery) said in a written statement, “Those who presided over the misconduct, negligence and systemic fraud in Central Alabama must be held accountable. Responsibility for what has taken place at the Central Alabama VA doesn’t rest with one person. I don’t expect the director to be the last one fired, nor should he be.”
Representative Bradley Byrne (R from Mobile) said in a statement, “Many of our veterans in the First District use the VA hospital in Montgomery, which has been plagued by poor leadership and scandal. I voted for, and the House passed, legislation earlier this year to make it easier to fire high-ranking VA officials. I am glad to see the legislation being used to remove failing VA leaders.”
Rep. Roby wrote, “A key reason a culture of complacency has festered for years at the Central Alabama VA is the consequence-free environment it has been. It is what happens when employees see clear misconduct and even criminal behavior repeatedly go unpunished.”
Despite Friday’s action, Rep. Roby said, “The work here isn’t done. Last week, Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson told me he would be personally involved in overseeing reforms in Central Alabama. I believe direct oversight from the senior level at the VA enhances accountability and improves our ability to get real change in Central Alabama. Instilling accountability at the VA is a monumental task, but it is essential to ensuring a health care system that doesn’t leave veterans behind.”
Under the recently-enacted VA reform law, former Director Talton may still appeal the VA’s decision, but he will not be receive pay while he appeals.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Talton’s is the first full termination decision taken under the new law.
Talton’s termination came the day after Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake (both Rs from Arizona) sent a letter to VA Secretary McDonald in which the Senators wrote:
“[W]e are dismayed to learn that senior leaders of the VA are still not being held accountable for their grievous misconduct. Recent news reports have stated, in fact, that the VA is allowing senior employees to retire in lieu of being dismissed. As you know, the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act specifically includes provisions that enable swift accountability for senior leaders. It, therefore, appears that the law, which the President signed on August 7 of this year, is being ignored. The clearest example of your failure to change the culture at the VA is the continued employment of Sharon Helman, the former director of the Phoenix VA Health Care system, who has been on paid administrative leave for nearly six months. Ms. Helman and other senior leaders collected huge bonuses for the timely delivery of health care to veterans, many of whom died while awaiting care after being placed on secret waiting lists. This is unacceptable.”
In order to improve the timeliness of veterans’ healthcare, Congress authorized the VA to pay bonuses to administrators who could decrease wait times. Rather than doing anything to improve their performance, dozens of VA health care system administrators simply created false paper work. Secret lists of veterans were maintained that never were entered into the system. They were ignored while government bureaucrats collected large bonus checks. The VA scandal became public in Arizona; but in an internal report Montgomery’s CAVHCS was shown to be one of the worst offenders.
Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District.