This Disgusting Story from Veterans Affairs is a Symptom of Everything that’s Wrong with Government
The Department of Veterans Affairs has been under scrutiny for the past several years from veterans’ groups, the media, and members of Congress. Now new details are coming to light concerning the status of one of the department’s top officials. DeWayne Hamlin is head of the VA’s Puerto Rico hospital, and he has been absent from the hospital approximately 80 days during a one-year period of his employment.
Hamlin was paid $179,700 despite being absent from the hospital approximately one in three business days last year, according to “delegation of authority” documents by which he temporarily transferred his job responsibilities to deputies.
In April 2014, for example, he was absent from the 10th to the 18th, then from the 24th to the 27th. He also submitted a delegation document saying he would be gone the 28th and 29th. For part of that time, he was traveling to Florida, where he previously lived. He was arrested by Florida police while sitting in his car at 2:00 a.m. on the 26th.
Police said that he smelled of alcohol, twice refused to take a breath test, and that they found oxycodone for which he did not have a prescription. He reportedly refused to say where he got the painkiller.
April 2014 was not atypical of his attendance. Throughout the year, Hamlin took multiple absences, sometimes missing only a day and other times being away for a week. He missed about 100 days in the 14 months ending in June 2014.
Hamlin is a member of the Senior Executive Service, the highest rank for career civil service managers, and previously worked at veterans hospitals in the continental U.S.
Senior executives in Veterans Affairs are rarely disciplined or fired. Since the department has been under a media spotlight, some employees have retired rather than facing disciplinary action. Glann Haggstrom was responsible for VA construction projects for years. Every one of its major construction projects are lagging behind schedule and are millions over budget, according to the Government Accountability Office. Still, VA Leadership allowed Haggstrom to retire with full benefits.
It is against federal law, however, to collect a government paycheck without coming to work. In March, Stephany West, a federal employee in Tampa, Florida, was convicted of theft of government funds for failing to be present at work 50 percent of the time. Her sentence could be as high as ten years in prison.
The Examiner asked VA officials if Hamlin had obtained painkillers from the Puerto Rico facility, if his absences caused problems in management, and why he was being allowed to maintain his position in light of his failure to appear so frequently. Officials with Veterans Affairs did not respond.
The Examiner also inquired as to Hamlin’s allotted vacation, and how many vacation and sick days he had used. The Puerto Rico hospital issued a one sentence statement from a spokesperson for the VA’s Sunshine Healthcare Network, which manages the Caribbean system. The statement said the network had “reviewed this matter in 2014, and found that Mr. Hamlin’s attendance was in conformance with applicable rules and regulations.”