Demotions for 2 top VA employees on hold

AP News
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Posted: Dec 03, 2015 3:57 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Department of Veterans Affairs said Thursday that it has rescinded the demotions of two high-ranking officials, but will reissue them after a paperwork mix-up in the case is resolved.

In November, Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves were demoted from senior executives — the highest rank for career employees — to general workers within the Veterans Benefits Administration. Rubens had been earning $181,497 as director of the Philadelphia regional office for the VBA, while Graves earned $173,949 as leader of the St. Paul, Minnesota, regional office.

The VA's acting inspector general said in a report this fall that Rubens and Graves forced lower-ranking regional managers to accept job transfers against their will. Rubens and Graves then stepped into the vacant positions themselves, keeping their pay while reducing their responsibilities.

Ryan Hedgepeth, oversight director at the VA, said in a statement that both employees appealed their demotions and that their geographic reassignments to lower-paying jobs were on hold pending the appeals process. He said an agency lawyer had discovered that one of five binders of evidence supporting the demotions had not been given to the employees.

"To rectify this omission, the department must rescind and reissue the proposed demotions and afford the employees the opportunity to respond to the additional supporting evidence," he said. "The process is now under way."

Before taking the regional jobs, Rubens was a deputy undersecretary at the VA's Washington headquarters, while Graves was director of VBA's 14-state North Atlantic Region. Both employees currently are reporting to the VBA's central office.

In addition to naming themselves to vacancies, Rubens and Graves were accused of obtaining more than $400,000 in questionable moving expenses through a relocation program for VA executives, the IG's report said. The two face possible criminal prosecution.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, chastised the VA, saying it "botched the disciplinary process" for the two employees.

"It seems VA's incompetence knows no bounds. ... This is an absolutely egregious mistake, and right now it's incumbent upon VA leaders to do two things: explain to taxpayers, veterans and Congress who will be held accountable for this failure and outline its plan for finally getting serious about accountability at the department," Miller said.