May 10, 2016

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt. Shaft
I hear that it is almost impossible to fire a VA employee.  Is that correct?

Jeff V
Via the Internet

Dear Jeff
According to Dr. David J. Shulkin, the VA Under Secretary for Health who testified before the House Veteran Affairs Committee during a hearing related to delays in Veteran’s Access to Healthcare and related than in the course of that hearing, a member of the Committee said that it was his understanding that the Department of Veterans Affairs refused to fire a VA Caribbean Health Care System employee who was convicted of an armed robbery in Puerto Rico. The member further asked what VA was doing to “take care of the situation.” My response to the member was “If I misspeak on this, I will commit I will get back to you by the end of the day, but it is my understanding that person is not currently working at the VA in San Juan.”

I have clarified my statement, and will be formally responding to the Committee, but it is equally important to me that I provide the facts and set the record straight for our Veterans, employees and the general public who entrust us with the care of the Nation’s Veterans and who expect us to be open and honest with them.

On June 15, 2015, an employee of the VA Caribbean Health Care System was arrested and charged with aggravated robbery. The facility’s management took appropriate administrative action during the pendency of the criminal proceedings. The criminal matter was resolved in November 2015 and resulted in a misdemeanor charge and probation only. The employee was not convicted of armed robbery and was subsequently returned to work as a clerk at VACHS following administrative processes and court approval. There was never any indication that the employee posed a risk to Veterans or VA property.

When it is learned that an employee has been charged with a criminal offense, VA takes action within the scope of the law and its Federal authority to implement appropriate disciplinary actions. In accordance with Federal law, criminal prosecution or conviction for off-duty misconduct does not automatically disqualify an individual from Federal employment. As is true in private-sector employment, a Federal employee generally cannot be terminated for off-duty misconduct unless there is a clear connection between the misconduct and the individual’s employment.

We want to assure the public and the Veterans whom we serve that the Department of Veterans Affairs and its Veterans Health Administration is diligent in its efforts to protect the safety of Veterans, visitors and employees in our facilities – nothing is more important to us.


Shaft Notes
The Department of Veterans Affairs announced the appointment of a new director of the Center for Women Veterans.

Kayla M. Williams assumed duties this week as Director, serving as primary advisor to the Secretary on Department policies, programs and legislation that affect women Veterans.

“Kayla embodies everything it means to be a true advocate for women Veterans and I am proud to welcome her to VA in this leadership role,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald. “This is an important time for VA as we prepare for the growing number of women we expect to take advantage of the VA services they have earned. I know Kayla will be tremendously helpful in improving services for female Veterans now and in future.”

Williams is a member of the Army Education Advisory Committee, a former member of the VA Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, a 2013 White House Woman Veteran Champion of Change, and a 2015 Lincoln Award recipient.

She worked eight years at the RAND Corporation conducting research on servicemember and Veteran health needs and benefits, international security, and intelligence policy.

Williams graduated cum laude with a BA in English Literature from Bowling Green State University and earned an MA in International Affairs with a focus on the Middle East from American University.

She is author of two books.  Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army, is a memoir about her deployment to Iraq. Her second book is, Plenty of Time When We Get Home: Love and Recovery in the Aftermath of War, about her family’s journey from trauma to healing.

Williams is coming from Pittsburgh, PA with her husband, a combat-wounded veteran, and their two children.

The Center for Women Veterans was established by Congress in November 1994 by Public Law (P.L.) 103-446 and monitors and coordinates VA’s administration of health care and benefits services and programs for women Veterans. The Center serves as an advocate for a cultural transformation in recognizing the service and contributions of women Veterans and women in the military.

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins, President and CEO of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), accepted a $100,000 donation to the MOAA Military Family Initiative from the PenFed Foundation for a cooperative military financial education effort to launch later this year.

MOAA will deliver financial education content tailored in conjunction with military transition program coordinators. The content will focus on one or more of the following themes based on the demographics and interests of each audience:

  • Strategic money management
  • New military retirement plan
  • Dollars and cents of working outside the home (optimized for military spouses)
  • Legislative issues of interest to the military community

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Shane Ostrom, MOAA certified financial planner, will lead the program which prepares service members for life outside of the military. Ostrom has a deep background in financial and benefits education and prior experience in the financial industry.

“We are looking forward to working with the PenFed Foundation leadership and the military community to advance our shared goal of increasing financial and military retirement planning awareness in the military community,” said Atkins.

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