The former Director of the D.C. VA Medical Center, Brian Hawkins, is the focus of another report from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) this week; this time putting VA confidential information at risk. Hawkins, who was demoted in April due to failing “to provide effective leadership”, was finally fired on Friday.
A recent report from the OIG found that Hawkins refused to hand over emails sent from his government email address to his wife that included VA “sensitive information” citing “spousal privilege.” Yet, the report notes that VA policy prohibits any confidentiality in communications made over VA email systems.
The OIG became aware of the confidentiality violation when they were originally investigating if Hawkins had delayed an Administrative Investigative Board inquiring about a complaint whether Hawkins had authorized thousands of dollars of employee bonuses without proper cause.
Hawkins had his fair share of troubles in a leadership position. In April, while Hawkins was still Director, an investigation found dirty sterile equipment storage areas, insufficient supplies, and millions of dollars of missing equipment. Making matters worse, a report came out examining federal records which stated the facility had a cockroach infestation and was lacking proper sanitary conditions in its food service areas in 2015.
As the saying goes, the fish rots from the head. Hawkins’ actions at the D.C. VA enabled a toxic culture to thrive, putting veterans’ health at an “unnecessary” risk. If the VA in the nation’s capital has these many problems, it is troublesome to think about the issues other VA medical facilities across the country are facing.
But there is hope that a new culture of accountability is taking over at the VA. In June, the President signed into law the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which gives the Secretary more authority to fire poorly-performing employees. Already since the beginning of this year, hundreds of VA employees have been fired or had disciplinary action taken against them. We are hopefully in a new era for the VA, one in which its dedicated to a strong staff and putting veterans first.
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