House panel issues subpoenas to 5 high-ranking VA officials
WASHINGTON (AP) — A House committee issued subpoenas Wednesday to five high-ranking officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs after the officials did not show up at a hearing on alleged manipulation of the agency’s hiring system.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee voted unanimously to subpoena the officials to appear at a hearing Nov. 2 on the allegations.
The VA’s acting inspector general says two senior VA officials forced regional managers to accept job transfers against their will — then stepped into the vacant positions themselves, keeping their pay while reducing their responsibilities.
The report said the officials also misused VA’s moving-expense system to claim more $400,000 in questionable moving expenses.
Diana Rubens, director of the Philadelphia regional office for the Veterans Benefits Administration, and Kimberly Graves, director of the St. Paul, Minnesota regional office for the VBA, face possible criminal prosecution.
Rubens and Graves skipped Wednesday’s hearing of the House veterans panel, as did three other VA officials called to discuss the allegations.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the committee’s chairman, said the subpoenas marked just the fourth time the committee has issued a subpoena. “I assure you that I have not come to this decision lightly,” Miller said, calling the allegations against Rubens and Graves disturbing.
VA officials asked the committee to delay the hearing until after the department reviewed the allegations and took possible disciplinary actions, but Miller said the committee could not wait.
“We cannot sit and wait while VA hopes this blows over,” he said. “We have seen time and time again, that if we do not aggressively shed light on issues we uncover ...then often VA will just sweep them under the rug for an extended period and wait for public attention to go elsewhere.”
Acting Inspector General Linda Halliday said in a report last month that Rubens and Graves “inappropriately used their positions of authority for personal and financial benefit” when they forced lower-ranking officials to transfer out of their positions and then filled the vacancies themselves.
Rubens and Graves kept their salaries of $181,497 and $173,949, respectively, even though the new positions they took as directors at regional offices in Philadelphia and St. Paul had less responsibility than their previous positions. Rubens was a deputy undersecretary at the VA’s Washington headquarters, while Graves was director of VBA’s Eastern Region.
Allison Hickey, the former head of the Veterans Benefits Administration, resigned last week amid questions about a backlog in disability claims and Hickey’s role in the transfers obtained by Rubens and Graves. The IG’s report said Hickey and other top VA officials may have encouraged the scheme.
Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said he would decide by Oct. 31 whether to recommend disciplinary action against Rubens or Graves. He said in a letter to Miller that forcing them to testify in public before then could compromise his investigation.
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