The former director of the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C., who was fired by the Department of Veterans Affairs on July 28 after an alarming internal audit reported dangerous conditions at the facility, is now back on the payroll, thanks to an appeal he filed with the federal Merit Systems Protection Board.
Brian Hawkins became the director of the Washington Medical Center in 2011. As one of the largest veterans’ medical facilities in the nation, it services almost 100,000 veterans and employs over 2,000 staff members.
In 2015, the facility was reported for an infestation of cockroaches and unsanitary conditions in the food services areas.
An inspector general’s report in April 2017 raised even more serious alarms, describing the hospital as literally dangerous to patients. The audit reported dirty storage areas that were used for storing “sterile” supplies, expired supplies being used and borrowed and unsterile equipment being used. As the facility had no effective inventory system, $150 million worth of supplies could not be accounted for, the report stated.
The VA first demoted Hawkins to another position, then fired him on July 28.
However, Hawkins went to the Office of Special Counsel and filed a complaint with the Merit Systems Protection Board, claiming he was wrongfully terminated. In turn, the federal Merit Systems Protection Board issued a 45-day “stay order” on Aug. 2, ordering the VA to give Hawkins his job back.
The board stated the 45-day stay is granted through Sep. 15, 2017, with orders that include the following:
- During the 45 days period, Hawkins must be reinstated to the position he held prior to his removal.
- No changes should be made in his duties or responsibilities that are “inconsistent with his salary” and no other requirements should be imposed on him.
- The VA was ordered to comply with the order within five days.
The board alleged that “Hawkins’s removal violated agency laws, rules and regulations, and his right to due process.” The 45-day stay is intended to allow the Office of Special Counsel time to “review the matter and determine whether to seek corrective action.”
VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin is outraged over being forced to take back the fired director, and issued a press release on Aug. 9, stating the agency is “exploring all options.”
The notice confirms that the Veterans Affairs has “complied with the order and returned Hawkins to the payroll, but to an administrative position at the VA headquarters in Washington, rather than to a patient-care position at the VA Medical Center.”
Shulkin stated in the press release: “No judge who has never run a hospital and never cared for our nation’s Veterans will force me to put an employee back in a position when he allowed the facility to pose potential safety risks to our Veterans. Protecting our Veterans is my most important responsibility.”
The VA now has a new plan to attempt to eliminate Hawkins, by using new legislation, just signed into law by President Trump in June, called the VA Accountability Act, which gives the VA secretary more authority to fire employees and shortens the appeals process. The new law also prohibits fired employees from being paid while they appeal the decision.
Shulkin reportedly plans to use fresh evidence from the inspector general to start the firing of Hawkins all over again under the new law, although no dates were given yet for when that will occur.
In a similar case, regarding another corrupt official at a VA hospital in Puerto Rico, CEO DeWayne Hamlin also appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board and landed right back in his old job, where he had been terminated in January 2017 for multiple wrongdoings.
The following Fox5 news broadcast, dated April 13, 2017, outlines the horrific conditions at the D.C. veterans’ hospital, discovered by the inspector general’s report in April.
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