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Former Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at Iowa GOP Lincoln Day Dinner May 16, 2015. (Reuters) Former Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at Iowa GOP Lincoln Day Dinner May 16, 2015. (Reuters)

Former Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at Iowa GOP Lincoln Day Dinner May 16, 2015. (Reuters)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman May 22, 2015

Was only one person fired at the VA for withholding services as Jeb Bush says?

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush says that the Obama White House has seen "scandals of epic proportions" at the Veterans Administration under its watch.

"It is scandalous that we treat our military coming home from service in the veterans’ department and veterans’ administration in a way where people should be fired," Bush said at a GOP Lincoln Day dinner in Iowa May 16. "One person has been fired. There should be scores of people fired for withholding services for people who truly need it."

Has only one person been fired related to the VA scandal? We decided to check.

Health care scandal at VA

In 2014, news reports revealed secret waiting lists at VA hospitals, while whistleblowers claimed that VA employees manipulated wait-time data. That ultimately led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki amid growing calls for him to be fired.

A Bush spokeswoman said that when Bush said only one person was fired he was referring to Shinseki’s forced resignation. (But the day after his speech Bush wrote that eight had been fired.)

"You can't just make a change at the top," Bush spokeswoman Allie Brandenburger said.

Shinseki wasn’t the only one who lost his job, though. Pinpointing the exact number is difficult, though, for a number of reasons. Numbers vary depending on if we count only permanent employees who were fired or include people who were in their one-year probationary period. We can also count people who retired or quit rather getting fired. The numbers also vary depending upon the reasons for terminations and whether they were directly related to the VA scandal. Finally, the VA produces a new report each week of disciplinary actions, so the numbers can change frequently.

PolitiFact obtained a list of disciplinary actions from the VA supplied to the House and Senate committees on Veterans Affairs between June 3, 2014, and May 14, 2015. That information, shows employees disciplined for patient scheduling, record manipulation, appointment delays, and/or patient deaths. (Bush mentioned firings in the context of "withholding services" -- that term itself isn’t mentioned on the document though it could certainly overlap with the ones mentioned here.)

The data shows 21 regular employees were removed, six probationary employees were removed and 10 resigned or retired when they faced being fired, for a total of 37 removals. Another 12 removals remained pending. We confirmed the numbers with a spokesman for the VA.

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But those 21 include three medical center directors who were ultimately fired for reasons unrelated to the waiting times scandal, such as accepting improper gifts and failure to oversee employees, including one who took a patient to a crack house.

So if we don’t count those three, the number would be 18. (A judge threw out most of the reasons the medical center director in Phoenix was fired including about waiting times but upheld her firing for accepting improper gifts.)

The numbers are larger than those reported in a widely quoted April 22 article in the New York Times, which stated that VA data showed at best three people were fired for manipulating wait times through April 8. That number included the medical director fired for accepting gifts, one who retired while facing being fired and a pending case. We asked VA for updated figures on the number of people it has fired for manipulating wait times, the problem that precipitated the scandal. VA did not provide those figures.

Both sides have exaggerated claims about VA firings. In February, Shinseki’s replacement, Robert McDonald, said on Meet the Press that 900 people "have been fired since I became secretary (of Veterans Affairs). We’ve got 60 people that we fired who have manipulated wait times." McDonald inflated that figure in part by counting proposed firings. Data in February showed that 14 people were either removed, received probationary termination or resigned in lieu of removal. Another nine individuals had removals against them pending. PolitiFact rated that claim False.

Our ruling

Bush said "one person has been fired" related to withholding services at the Veterans Administration. Bush was referring to Shinseki, who technically resigned but that was amid growing calls for him to be fired.

Data through May 14 showed that 18 permanent employees have been fired for patient scheduling, record manipulation, appointment delays, and/or patient deaths.

Bush has a point that few have been fired, but he exaggerated when he said it was only one.

We rate this claim Mostly False.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This version incorporates additional language clarifying what information VA provided PolitiFact.

Our Sources

CSPAN, Former Gov. Jeb Bush’s speech at Iowa GOP Lincoln Day Dinner, May 16, 2015

House and Senate committees on veterans affairs, Disciplinary cases associated with wait time manipulation, April 8, 2015

House Committee on Veterans Affairs, "Chairman Miller to introduce legislation to address near complete lack of accountability after VA scandal," April 23, 2015

Montgomery Advertiser, "Board upholds VA’s firing of Talton," Nov. 19, 2014

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Questions remain over settlement reached with fired VA director," Feb. 21, 2015

New York Times, "Few people lost jobs with VA scandal," April 23, 2015

New York Times, "Firing of VA chief is upheld over gifts, not wait lists," Dec. 24, 2014

Arizona Republic, "Ousted VA boss Helman sues to regain job," May 6, 2015

Fox News, "What the hell? Boehner rips VA for firing almost nobody, year after Shinseki resignation," May 20, 2015

PolitiFact, "VA Secretary claims 900 firings, 60 related to wait time scandal, since he took over," Feb. 20, 2015

PolitiFact, Fact-checks about veterans, Accessed May 19, 2015

Washington Post, "No, the VA has not fired 60 people for manipulating wait-time data," Feb. 18, 2015

Interview, Curt Cashour, spokesman for the House Committee on Veteran Affairs-Majority, May 19, 2015

Interview, Allie Brandenburger, Gov. Jeb Bush spokeswoman, May 19, 2015

Interview, James Hutton, Veterans Administration spokesman, May 19, 2015

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