In an ironic twist, Department of Veterans Affairs Department officials may pay thousands of dollars to move a pair of recently demoted executives accused of receiving tens of thousands of dollars in questionable relocation bonuses.
Last week, VA officials confirmed that they have reassigned two regional directors at the heart of the department's latest management scandal: Diana Rubens, director of the Veterans Benefits Administration's Philadelphia Regional Office, and Kimberly Graves, director of the St. Paul office in Minnesota.
The moves are in response to a September report from the VA inspector general in September stating that the two women officials abused the department’s internal employee-relocation programs to gain promotions and collect thousands of dollars in questionable moving expenses.
For Rubens, that totaled almost $275,000 for a move from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia, including losses related to the sale of her home. For Graves, it was nearly $130,000.
In both cases, investigators found that the women created vacancies within the department to give themselves opportunities for less work with comparable pay. Lawmakers have called for their firings and possible criminal charges.
Department leaders — who conduct their own reviews, separate from the IG report — responded by demoting the women officials to assistant director posts at other locations. VA officials would not say where, but lawmakers in Arizona and Texas say they believe the new posts are in their states.
The moves from senior executive positions to General Schedule jobs will cost them women potentially tens of thousands of dollars in salary and benefits.
But some lawmakers say that's not enough. In a letter to VA Secretary Bob McDonald on Monday, House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., called the decision not to fire the pair "disappointing" and the decision not to try and recoup the relocation funds "flabbergasting."
"VA aggressively pursues the recoupment of overpayment of benefits made to veterans … even when the overpayments are due to VA's own errors," Miller wrote. "I am sure you appreciate the lunacy of a policy that is stricter on veteran beneficiaries of earned benefits as compared to corrupt government employees."
In fact, the women Rubens and Graves are eligible for even more relocation money.
Since the new positions will involve involuntary cross-country moves, both women can apply for a series of department relocation reimbursements, VA officials confirmed. Although the home-sale program has been suspended during a departmentwide review, the employees' other moving costs can be paid for with taxpayer dollars.
That incensed Miller.
"It seems VA's taxpayer abuse is never ending," he told Military Times. "Now we hear that VA leaders, who refuse to fire Rubens and Graves despite their proven corruption, are planning to reward them with a publicly funded move."
"The right way to deal with corrupt employees is to fire them," he said. "The VA way to deal with corrupt employees is to protect and coddle them."
Miller’s committee will hold a hearing Dec. 9 hearing on problems with employee accountability in the department. Graves and Rubens have until the end of the week to appeal their demotions, as per rules approved by Congress last year.