VA fires Phoenix hospital head

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) fired Sharon Helman, the head of the Phoenix VA Healthcare System, on Monday after an investigation confirmed a lack of oversight and other misconduct occurred under her leadership.

Helman has been on administrative leave since May in the wake of reports that the Phoenix organization kept a secret wait list to conceal long wait times and allegations that as many as 40 veterans died while waiting for an appointment. The investigation led to a nationwide scandal involving several VA facilities and the resignation of former VA Secretary Eric Shineski.

The VA said in the announcement it will name a new director as soon as possible. Meawhile, it brought longtime administrator Glenn Grippen out of retirement to serve as the interim director. Grippen was appointed to a one-year term earlier this month, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported

"This removal action underscores VA's commitment to hold leaders accountable and ensure that veterans have access to quality and timely care," the agency said in the announcement of Helman's removal from federal service.

Earlier this month, VA Secretary Robert McDonald announced the most substantial restructuring in VA history with plans to fire 35 people but disciplinary action for as many as 1,000 employees.

Many lawmakers criticized the VA for its failure to quickly discipline officials responsible for the misconduct despite legislation passed this summer to expedite the process for firing low-performing VA executives. But veteran groups interviewed by the Washington Post said Helman's firing is a positive sign for the future of the VA system.

"I think this is a step in the right direction and what we have been looking for in terms of concrete action against wrongdoing," Alex Nicholson, legislative director with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America told the Post. "We understood bureaucratic processes made it even longer. But it was frustrating to see how slow they had to go in firing someone."

To learn more:
- read the announcement
- here's the Washington Post article
- here's the Star Tribune article