WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) has criticized the latest move by Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson to initiate monthly site inspections by Medical Center and VISN Directors in an attempt to restore integrity to the scandal-embroiled agency.
The officials in charge of these inspections are the same individuals who have been overseeing the vast culture of corruption and misconduct throughout the VA, which has contributed to the suffering of veterans in Illinois and nationwide.
Joan Ricard, Director of the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital in Maywood, Ill., will be one of the officials tasked with overseeing these efforts. Ricard, in a memo obtained by Kirk's office last month, was made aware of the scheduling and wait time manipulation at Hines and did not actively pursue punishment of those involved. Instead, more than $16.6 million in performance-based bonuses were handed out to Hines employees following these wait time manipulations. This plan would also have put Sharon Helman, a previous Director of the Hines VA Hospital and individual at the heart of the Phoenix VA scandal, in a position to oversee the same individuals she allegedly directed to manipulate schedules and wait times.
"The idea that corrupt VA Directors like Joan Ricard will be entrusted with reviewing the very fraudulent scheduling practices she oversaw at the Hines VA is insulting," Kirk said. "This latest move from the VA empowers the very individuals that contributed to the egregious nationwide misconduct and culture of corruption. Ricard should be fired, not put in charge of this laughable attempt to 'restore integrity' to scheduling practices."
Late last week, Kirk called on Acting Secretary Gibson to use his authority to declare a state of emergency, which would allow expedited access to private health care for veterans victimized by excessive wait times for treatment. Kirk was joined by Retired U.S. Army Private Michael Swan, who has been a victim of the manipulated wait times at the Hines VA.
Swan was forced to wait for care at the Hines VA, and upon meeting with doctors for a colonoscopy, was told he was healthy and that there was nothing to be concerned about. However, Swan continued to have painful symptoms and discomfort, and went for a second opinion outside of Hines. It was discovered that he had 130 polyps on his colon, and has since had his colon removed. After suffering two strokes, he has waited more than a year to see a neurologist, and has waited more than year to see an endocrinologist. Swan disclosed his medical records to Kirk's office, which showed vastly manipulated wait times since his original appointment date of March 6, 2013.