It's a systemic problem of the tail wagging the dog

Alaska Older Veterans Report

Former Phoenix VA Healthcare Director Sharon Helman, who was earlier ousted by the administration after the public outcry over the deaths of veterans on a waiting list, has had her $57,000 bonus upheld. An administrative judge ruled Helman’s dismissal was due to taking trips and gifts and not the result of her stellar work at the Phoenix VA. The judge ruled therefore she was entitled to her well earned $57,000 bonus in addition to her $170,000 (never in question) base salary. Factor in her fringe benefits and Helman pulled in almost $300,000 to stall health care to veterans. Waiting list times are one of the benchmarks for bonus awards at the VA.

The bonus figure alone amounts to $1,425 per veteran death if you use the low number of 40 American veterans who died waiting for an appointment. A veterans life is quantified at $193 if you use the 293 veterans deaths reported by the GAO during congressional hearings. These allegations were made by Dr. Sam Foote, a retired Phoenix VA doctor, who in April 2014 first surfaced with detailed allegations that many American veterans had died in Phoenix, waiting for care at the VA.

This deplorable action to pay the bonus may have been within the civil service regulations and lawfully negotiated union work rules, but it sends the wrong message. Lie, cheat and steal; get caught and spend time on the beach with paid leave and once the headlines fade (they always do), the system will make you whole.

This unpardonable act was just as bad as the outcome of the Department of Justice punishment of federal prosecutors Joseph Bottini and James Goeke. These government workers illegally hid vital exculpatory evidence from the late Senator Ted Stevens legal team (not to mention the questionable venue) in Sen. Stevens’ corruption trial. These two government civil servants fell on their swords in order to advance election chances of success of a small group of progressives that has highjacked a once proud political party.

Stevens’ conviction eventually was dismissed (after he was narrowly defeated by now former Senator Begich). However, the Merit Systems Protection Board in January 2015 ruled the DOJ violated the two employees rights when DOJ suspended them for a short period.

Even when acts of corruption are punished, chances are excellent those disciplined will be rewarded in the private or NGO sector with better positions. Some call this process the Beltline Revolving Door.

This article is not intended to indict federal workers in general but to highlight a situation that needs to be addressed. People are sent into a frenzy over the lack of sunshine with deals made in smoke-filled back rooms. We need to be equally outraged over “in your face” breaches of the public trust when it comes to violations by public sector union employees.

Obvious overreaches of authority and the exercise of plenary powers not backed by statutes or the U.S. Constitution imposed on sovereign people occur every day without as much a whimper from the mainstream fourth estate.

The present system of self-regulating civil servants managing the laws passed by a duly elected Congress and signed by the president only works when ethical people are in charge.

Today, ethics in the workplace is a course in college. Some of us were taught ethics at home and in church. But when new government workers see their supervisors rise in rank by bending or breaking the rules; the result is the present situation of “the tail wagging the dog.”

Makes you wonder if the fourth estate (news media) and the Fifth Column (people who want to pervert or overthrow our system of government) have become one and the same. The U.S. Consitution is not a cafeteria serving line where you can pick the article, section or amendment you favor and dismiss the ones you don’t like.

I am sanguine the good citizens of this country will not tolerate this situation for very much longer. The ballot box and sunshine at all levels of government will keep this exceptional nation alive for generations to come.

Mike Dryden is a retired Army Major and current board member of Older Persons Action Group, Inc.

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