MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Florida Senator Marco Rubio said recent allegations made by a whistleblower inside the Miami VA are both disturbing but sadly typical of the VA’s problems across the country.
“I wish I could say it was an isolated incident,” Rubio told CBS4 News Thursday. “But it’s not. We are seeing this all over the country. Every time they are confronted by a problem their reaction has been to try and cover it up, to doctor information. It’s just completely unacceptable.”
Earlier this week, Thomas Fiore, a longtime detective and investigator with the VA police department contacted CBS4 News hoping to shed light on what he considers a culture of bureaucratic neglect. Among his charges: Drug dealing on the hospital grounds is a daily occurrence. Even inside the hospital, he said, he was stopped from doing his job – investigating reports of missing drugs from the VA pharmacy.
“This investigator came forward, he pointed out to the fact that these drugs were being diverted and what he was told to do was to stop reporting it and stop investigating it,” Rubio said. “The reaction wasn’t, `Let’s act on it, let’s come up with a plan to address it.’ The reaction from the medical director there was, `Stop talking about it. You no longer have the authority to look at it.’”
VA officials deny that they interfered with Fiore. They have instead tried to cast doubt on Fiore’s credibility. They note he was transferred from the police department in February for an unspecified problem. Fiore said he was transferred because he had become an irritant to hospital executives. Fiore’s most recent employee evaluation rates him as excellent.
Rubio said VA executives refuse to admit mistakes.
“You can’t reform an agency that is resistant to even admitting there is a problem or even address it,” Rubio said. “There is this entrenched bureaucracy who’s more interested in protecting their jobs than they are in solving this problem and helping these veterans.”
Rubio is sponsoring a bill in the Senate to allow the secretary of the VA, General Eric Shinseki, to cut through certain civil service protections for federal employees, and fire workers who are not doing the job they need to do.
Rubio has not joined the chorus of some Republican lawmakers calling for Shinseki to resign. He said he is reserving judgment on that for now.
“But I think that one of the things we can do to help him do his job is to give him the power to fire senior executives within the VA who quite frankly are untouchable, they’re like tenured professors,” Rubio said. “To fire them you literally have to go through this long-winded process and as a result these executives, even if they are guilty of mismanagement, they are likelier to get a bonus than they are to get fired or reprimanded.”
On Wednesday the House passed the measure with bi-partisan support. Rubio tried to have the bill voted on in the Senate Thursday but was blocked. The measure is likely to come up again in June.
Rubio said he had written Secretary Shinseki following the CBS4 News story last month about Nicholas Cutter, the 27-year-old Iraq veteran who overdosed on cocaine inside the VA’s Miami drug rehab center.
“As of today, my understanding is that we have not gotten a response and we want a response,” Rubio said. “But the response we really want is we want action we want to begin to take concrete steps toward solving this and I believe that includes people need to be fired. If this were happening in any other entity, in your newsroom in my office, anywhere else, people would be held accountable for it, their jobs would be lost.”
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