When former Veterans Affairs Department executive Sharon Helman was fired Monday, VA critics reacted swiftly and similarly to the news: Finally — but it's not enough.
Helman, who had been the Phoenix VA health system director until May, was formally dismissed after more than 200 days of investigation into the Arizona system's wait time scandals and administrative cover-up.
The VA inspector general found workers there had falsified waiting lists to meet internal performance goals, protecting personal bonuses over veterans' health concerns. In a statement, VA Secretary Bob McDonald criticized Helman for failing to hold employees accountable.
"Lack of oversight and misconduct by VA leaders runs counter to our mission of serving veterans, and VA will not tolerate it," he said. "We depend on VA employees and leaders to put the needs of veterans first."
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For many critics, Helman became the prominent example of the department's woes, both before and after her suspension. Concerns about wait time gaming spread to dozens of VA facilities nationwide and forced the resignation of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in May.
But since then, McDonald and other top VA officials have come under attack for a lack of firings and administrative punishment, even after Congress passed legislation in July designed to make the dismissal of senior VA executives happen more swiftly.
But fewer than 10 senior executives have faced formal dismissal proceedings by the department in recent months.
House Veterans' Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., has called for Helman's firing for months and called Monday's news "a positive step." But he stopped short of full praise for VA.
"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 in a prepared statement. "There are still many more VA scandal figures who also must be purged from the department's payroll."
Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, who had hammered McDonald and VA leadership in recent weeks for continuing to keep Helman on the payroll, called the action long overdue and said the department still must do more to win back the trust of veterans.
Concerned Veterans for America CEO Pete Hegseth started his statement on Helman's firing this way: "Good riddance."
American Legion National Commander Michael Helm praised Helman's firing but added: "The termination of one director does not end this scandal."
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America CEO Paul Rieckhoff said "it's good to finally see accountability in Phoenix" and added that IAVA members expect to see more firings in weeks to come.
McDonald has promised the same, blaming the lag in Helman's firing and lengthy limbo for other executive employment decisions on ongoing administrative and criminal investigations. Once those are complete, officials will move swiftly to punish or remove the individuals concerned.
Helman collected around $90,000 while on administrative leave, despite facing imminent threat of dismissal. VA officials have said that federal due process rules prohibit withholding pay or benefits from employees under investigation. The only exception is if evidence of treason is found.
VA officials have emphasized that while Helman's firing was finalized only on Monday, she has been sidelined for more than half a year, allowing other officials to implement reform efforts in Phoenix.
Helman could not be reached for comment. VA officials hope to name a new director in Phoenix "as quickly as possible" but also have praised the work of several interim directors in rebuilding local veterans' trust in the system since May.