CINCINNATI (AP) — The Department of Veterans Affairs ousted the head of its Ohio-based regional network Thursday and disciplined an official at the Cincinnati VA medical center in connection with a probe of the hospital's management and veterans' care.
The agency said its findings are being referred for a possible federal criminal investigation.
The VA announced in Washington that Jack Hetrick, director of the Ohio-based network that serves some 500,000 veterans including in Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan, is retiring after his proposed removal, while the Cincinnati hospital's acting chief of staff, Dr. Barbara Temeck, was suspended from her duties, pending further administrative action.
The VA said a site visit didn't substantiate impropriety in the quality of care for veterans or in community care referrals, but said the investigative team found misconduct related to Temeck's provision of prescriptions and other medical care to members of Hetrick's family. The VA said Temeck's medical privileges were suspended and she was assigned to non-patient care duties.
"We will continue to use VA's statutory authority to hold employees accountable where warranted by the evidence," VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson said in a statement. "That is simply the right thing to do for veterans and taxpayers."
The Cincinnati hospital delivers medical care to more than 43,000 veterans annually from southwest Ohio, northern Kentucky and Indiana. Messages seeking comment from Hetrick and the hospital were not immediately returned Thursday.
WCPO-TV and Scripps News Washington Bureau reported recently that nearly three dozen current and former medical center employees have expressed urgent concerns about the quality of care for veterans amid alleged misconduct by officials in Cincinnati.
"Veterans are thankful that the Department of Veterans Affairs acted to dismiss a leader who has lost the trust of those he serves," U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, an Army veteran and Cincinnati-area Republican, said in a statement about Hetrick.
But Republican Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, who chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said in a statement that the two Ohio officials are the latest examples of how "the federal civil service system is designed to coddle and protect corrupt and incompetent employees."
Miller said Hetrick is likely to get full benefits and a lifetime pension and Temeck will remain on the payroll apparently "making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for the foreseeable future."
"A VA investigation has already substantiated that both employees committed serious misconduct in violation of multiple VA regulations and quite possibly the law, yet both of these individuals are still collecting taxpayer-funded paychecks," the congressman said.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Cleveland Democrat on the Senate veterans' affairs committee, said the action was "long overdue." Brown said he was pleased to see VA Secretary Bob McDonald follow through on his recent commitment to fix problems at the Cincinnati center. Brown said he still wants McDonald to come to the Cincinnati VA to hear directly from whistleblowers.
"Our work is not done," Brown said in a statement, saying he wants to make sure veterans will get the highest quality care.
McDonald is a former CEO and long-time executive of Cincinnati-based consumer products maker Procter & Gamble Co.
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