VA fires director of Phoenix facilities at center of scandal

The Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday fired the director of its Phoenix VA Health Care System, where long patient wait times were linked earlier this year to a series of patient deaths.

A press release from the department said Director Sharon Helman was "formally removed" after an inspector general investigation substantiated reports of mismanagement and lack of oversight.

“This removal action underscores VA’s commitment to hold leaders accountable and ensure that veterans have access to quality and timely care,” VA said in its news release.

ADVERTISEMENT

The agency has been working to slash patient wait times in recent weeks, creating the Veterans Choice Program, which allows eligible veterans to go to private healthcare providers on the VA’s dime.

Republican lawmakers were pushing VA Secretary Robert McDonald to fire Helman earlier this month.

“This action was long overdue, but it finally sends the message to our veterans and VA employees that misconduct and mismanagement will not be tolerated at the VA, and people will be held responsible,” the statement said. 

“The VA has a long way to go to win back veterans’ trust, and to reform its operations to deliver timely, quality care, but today’s action represents a positive step in the right direction.”

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said the agency will never earn America’s trust back until all of the corrupt senior executives who created the biggest scandal in the agency’s history are gone.

“Sharon Helman's removal is a positive step, but there are still many more VA scandal figures who also must be purged from the department's payroll in order for veterans and families to receive the closure they deserve." 

An inspector general investigation in May found that veterans had waited an average of 115 days for initial appointments in Phoenix and 40 people had died, though officials could not conclusively link the deaths to the long wait times.

The VA said it will name a new director as quickly as possible. In the interim, Glenn Grippen will serve as the Phoenix VA Heath Care System director.

—This story was updated at 7:52 p.m.