• Relocation Payment To Philadelphia VA Hospital Director $274,000 Higher Than Historical Average

    A Department of Veterans Affairs regional hospital director in Philadelphia was paid $288,000 dollars last year to move 140 miles from Washington, D.C.

    What makes this case interesting is that the relocation payment is at least $274,000 dollars more than the historical average.

    The VA maintains that there’s nothing wrong with the amount, which was allocated to Diana Rubens after she was chosen in June 2014 to become head of the troubled Philadelphia regional VA hospital. (RELATED: VA Hospital Director Paid $288k In ‘Relocation Payments’ To Move 144 Miles)

    However, the historical trend shows a very low average payment for relocation costs. In fiscal year 2009, the VA paid 755 relocation awards totaling $9,698,672. The average payment was $12,845.92 dollars. Continuing through fiscal year 2010, the VA issued 762 relocation awards, costing $9,107,085 with an average payment of just $11,951.55. Fiscal year 2011 saw a slight uptick: 789 relocation awards totaling $10,294,345 for an average payment of $13,047.33.

    According to regulations, payments of this sort are handed out for the purposes of moving, temporary lodging, meals and other expenses incurred during the process of relocation.

    This isn’t the first time Rubens has been the subject of controversy. In 2011, Rubens received a bonus payment of $23,000 dollars, despite the fact that patient backlogs jumped to 300,000. At the time, Rubens was in charge of managing backlogs.

    “Once again, we are confronted with an issue that potentially calls into question the credibility of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in its policies involving management of the VA workforce,” Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said in a letter to VA secretary Robert McDonald earlier in March. “The allegations involve questionable financial benefits and favoritism in promotion and work environment.”

    The letter was an attempt to get to the bottom of the unusually high relocation payment. A whistleblower passed along information to Miller alleging that not only did Rubens receive $288,207.77 for relocation, but that her salary, placed at the senior executive service level, stayed the same, even though her current position is two levels under her pay grade.

    Miller has put in the request for a full and specific cost breakdown of the relocation payment, but the VA so far declined to provide the information. It is still unclear who authorized the relocation expenses or what criteria were used to determine the total amount.

    Although Congress has provided $15 billion dollars for the VA moving forward, the recent budget request for fiscal year 2016 includes a submission for extra funds. According to Miller, “To pay what appears to be an outrageous amount in relocation costs at the same time that additional resources are being requested for veterans’ care and benefits only serves to raise questions about some VA employees’ credibility, commitment to transparency and true reform.”

    Rubens was originally sent over because the VA facilities in Philadelphia are known to be particularly troubled, but recent revelations of her generous relocation payment call into question the VA’s focus on routing out mismanagement.

    Follow Jonah Bennett on Twitter

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