Some VA doctors on paid leave for years, costing taxpayers millions

G.V. Montgomery VA Medical Center, in Jackson, Miss. (Feb. 27, 2004)

A recent investigative report has revealed that in 2014 alone, more than 2,500 employees at the Dept. of Veterans Affairs spent at least one month on paid leave, costing taxpayers $23 million — more than any other federal agency.

Two surgeons from the VA Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi–whose annual salaries total more a half million–have been on paid leave more than two years.  According to the Clarion Ledger, “They count against the Jackson VA’s budget, but veterans receive no care from them.”

The VA Secretary recognized that  employees remain on paid leave too long. This is mind-blowing to some people.  How can taxpayers be  paying millions for VA hospitals to keep health care providers with questionable records on paid leave for years?

Congressman Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, explains it like this: “Because of the federal government’s dysfunctional civil service laws that put the job security of bureaucrats ahead of the safety of veterans, the VA doesn’t have the ability to adequately discipline most misbehaving employees.”

Sec. Robert McDonald says, “Originally, administrative leave was designed to take people out of system while they were being investigated so they didn’t create adversity or harm.” McDonald adds that his agency is “streamlining the process,” so employees can be disciplined more quickly.

In some cases though– the damage has already been done.  The Clarion Ledger reports that taxpayers are footing the bill for salaries of doctors and VA employees, who’ve been accused of wrongdoing,  but are still employed by the federal agency.

Dr. Daniel Kim – who has an annual base pay of $190,000, is accused of forging a patient’s consent form in the late 90’s. That patient, Judy Loveless, died during routine cosmetic surgery at a Georgia clinic. Kim surrendered his Georgia medical license and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in that case. The 59-year-old ophthalmologist is still employed at the Jackson VA, despite another 2006 case that went horribly wrong– where a vet winded up blind when Kim performed a routine cosmetic surgery.

A nurse’s aide, who is still employed at the VA Hospital in Alexandria, Louisiana, was accused in 2013 of beating to death a 70-year-old military veteran. Despite being charged with manslaughter, the VA concluded that Frederick Kevin Harris was not at fault. Harris is reportedly still allowed, at times, to treat patients.

Rep. Miller says as a result of these festering issues at the VA, problem employees are either paid to do nothing, or “shuffled around or not dealt with at all.” Retired Maj. Gen. Erik Hearon says, veterans are hurt by this because they can’t see these surgeons and taxpayers are hurt by this because they have to pay for veterans to find care elsewhere.

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  • Michele graduated with a B.S. in Telecommunication from the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. She has spent numerous years working in the news industry in south Florida, including many positions ranging from being a news writer at WSVN, the Fox affiliate in Miami to being an associate news producer at WPLG-TV, the ABC affiliate in Miami. Michele has also worked in Public Relations and Marketing.

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