Talton was placed on administrative leave in August, after months of controversy over practices at his clinics. Among the network’s problems, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel found that a doctor had falsified more than 1,200 patient records, despite being caught repeatedly, according to a Montgomery Advertiser report.
Two facilities within the Alabama network were also selected for investigation after a federal audit found they had some of the nation’s longest wait times for new patients. Additionally, an employee with a drug-addiction treatment program allegedly drove a patient to a crack house, left him there overnight and helped him buy narcotics.
Congress and President Obama approved legislation this summer to expedite the process for firing VA senior executives in response to the agency’s record-keeping scandal, which involved falsification of scheduling data and retaliation against employees who tried to report problems.
Under the new law, Talton will have seven days to file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board, which in turn has three weeks to decide whether to overturn the VA’s action.
Last week, Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Republicans from Arizona, complained that the VA was not acting fast enough to remove officials responsible for the record-keeping scandal. Specifically, they took issue with the continued employment of Sharon Helman, who headed the Phoenix VA clinic where the nationwide scandal first came to light publicly.
Helman has been on paid administrative leave for nearly six months. The VA said in a statement Friday that it has proposed removing her from federal service and that the agency is awaiting the results of a Justice Department investigation.
A growing chorus of GOP lawmakers this month have expressed impatience with the speed of the VA’s disciplinary actions. On top of the concerns from McCain and Flake, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) has criticized the VA for giving senior executives a five-day notice when it plans to remove them.
Miller said in a statement this month that the new firing law may need changes to prevent the executives from quitting, retiring or finding new government jobs without suffering consequences. He said Friday that Talton’s two months of paid leave was a “waste of taxpayer dollars,” adding that the VA needs to “move much more quickly to purge other disgraced personnel from its payroll.”
VA officials have pushed back against suggestions that the agency has acted too slowly. VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson said this month that the agency is using its new firing authority “fully and responsibly,” adding that Congress should pass additional legislation if it wants the department to have greater flexibility.