The VA Priorities: $288K for Moving from DC to Philly

The VA priorities are supposed to be the health and well-being of the veterans. Is that where the resources are going?

This story from The Inquirer is mainly concerned with the fact that Veterans Affairs seems to be dragging their feet on releasing a report on their problems in the Philadelphia area hospitals.

Area congressmen Wednesday urged the Department of Veterans Affairs to issue its long-awaited report on mismanagement and misconduct at the Philadelphia regional office, after results of the probe began to seep out and stir new questions and accusations.

A top VA official visited the office Wednesday and said the agency had already implemented many of the recommendations expected within a week from the department’s Office of Inspector General. But leaks this week of portions of its report, and of material gathered by a congressional committee, have rekindled the focus on the Germantown-based facility.

Oddly, it seems that the only way anyone has been able to learn what is in the report is via leakers. When are they going to actually release the document? We don’t know.

[See also, “VA Scandal Continues: Sweetheart Auditor Assigned to Investigate Hospitals.”]

But then there is this revelation buried several paragraphs down in the story:

Rep. Jeff Miller (R., Fla.), who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, has also raised questions about the salary and “relocation payments” to the new director of the Philadelphia office, Diana Rubens.

Rubens, who was a senior executive in the D.C. office when she was tapped in June to take over the troubled Philadelphia branch, received more than $288,000 in relocation expenses.

“The government shouldn’t be in the business of doling out hundreds of thousands in cash to extremely well-compensated executives just to move less than three hours down the road,” Miller said.

VA spokesman Steve Westerfeld on Wednesday confirmed the payout and said it was appropriate. “Ms. Rubens is one of [the Veterans Benefits Administration’s] most experienced and highly skilled senior leaders, having led the operations of VBA’s entire field organization for many years,” he said.

Under federal regulations, an agency can pay a variety of costs associated with reassigning an employee, including moving, closing costs, and a per-diem allowance for meals and temporary lodging for the employee’s household.

Cheri Cannon, a Washington lawyer who works on federal employment and ethics cases, said the payments sound reasonable.

“It’s not surprising and not excessive,” she said. “It is to encourage people to relocate to jobs that no one wants or are difficult to fill.”

Washington lawyers are not the people I would trust to tell me what is reasonable. What kind of priority are the Veterans to an organization that burns through money this way? The VA priorities make what happened to the Veterans much easier to understand.