Click to see preamble.


OCTOBER 4, 2015


Musical Chairs at the VA

Kristen Ruell

My name is Kristen Ruell. I am an authorization quality review specialist at the Philadelphia Regional Office. My primary job duty includes performing quality reviews on the accuracy of benefit payments paid out from the VA to its beneficiaries. This August will mark my 8th year of employment with the Philadelphia Regional Office at the United States Department of Veteran Affairs. The agency has potential to be the greatest place to work in the entire country. The feeling of being able to give back to the American citizens that served our country is truly satisfying.

Report from the VA Office of the Inspector General's office - Philly VA
Inappropriate Use of Position and Misuse of Relocation Program and Incentives 
OIG Report Summary
Ms. Diana Rubens was reassigned from her position as Deputy Under Secretary for Field Operations to the position of Director, Philadelphia and Wilmington VA Regional Offices (VAROs)1, effective June 1, 2014. VA paid $274,019.12 related to Ms. Rubens’ Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move. Although we determined the PCS relocation expenses paid for Ms. Rubens’ move were generally allowable under Federal and VA policy, we found that Ms. Rubens inappropriately used her position of authority for personal and financial benefit when she participated personally and substantially in creating the Philadelphia VARO vacancy and then volunteering for the vacancy.

Ms. Rubens told us she expressed an interest in replacing the former Philadelphia VARO Director when he retired in December 2011. In March 2014, she informed the Under Secretary for Benefits of her “desire to take advantage of the Philly Director opening” for herself, and the Under Secretary assured her that she would “be all in to help and make it happen.” We also identified issues related to Ms. Rubens’ PCS move. Specifically, we identified issues with the timeliness of VA’s approval of Ms. Rubens’ participation in the Appraised Value Offer (AVO) program, as well as a 17−day extension for temporary quarters subsistence expense (TQSE) allowance. In addition, Ms. Rubens claimed and was reimbursed $76.50 for alcoholic beverages, which is prohibited, and $47 for meal and tip expenses that were not supported by required receipts.

As part of our assessment of VA’s relocation expense program (PCS program), we reviewed records related to the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) reassignment of 7 General Schedule (GS) Grade 15 employees who were promoted to Senior Executive Service (SES) positions and 15 SES employees who moved to different SES positions in fiscal years (FYs) 2013, 2014, and 2015. VBA management used moves of senior executives as a method to justify annual salary increases and used VA’s PCS program to pay moving expenses for these employees. Annual salary increases totaled about $321,000, and PCS relocation expenses totaled about $1.3 million. Additionally, VBA paid $140,000 in unjustified relocation incentives. In total, VA spent about $1.8 million on the reassignments. While we do not question the need to reassign some staff to manage a national network of VAROs, we concluded that VBA inappropriately utilized VA’s PCS program for the benefit of its SES workforce.

Ms. Kimberly Graves was reassigned from her position as the Director of VBA’s Eastern Area Office to the position of Director, St. Paul VARO, effective October 19, 2014. VA paid $129,467.56 related to Ms. Graves’ PCS move. We determined that Ms. Graves also inappropriately used her position of authority for personal and financial benefit when she participated personally and substantially in creating the St. Paul VARO vacancy and then volunteering for the vacancy.

Mr. Antione Waller, former St. Paul VARO Director, told us Ms. Graves initiated discussion with him about relocating to the Philadelphia VARO. Once he expressed a willingness to accept the reassignment, she did an apparent “bait and switch.” She told him that the Philadelphia position was no longer available and he would be considered for the Baltimore VARO Director position. When he said he was not willing to move to Baltimore, Ms. Graves told him, “you will probably get another call, this probably won’t be the last conversation about Baltimore.” In an email, Ms. Beth McCoy, who at the time was the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Field Operations and Ms. Rubens’ subordinate, told Ms. Graves that she spoke to Mr. Waller and told him his name was already submitted to the VA Secretary for Baltimore, so “saying no now is not a clean or easy option.” Once the St. Paul Director position was vacant, Ms. Graves said she contacted Ms. Rubens and said, “I’d like to throw my name in for consideration for St. Paul … I feel like I’ve done my time and I’d like to put my name in.”

Ms. Rubens’ and Ms. Graves’ reassignments resulted in a significant decrease in job responsibilities, yet both retained their annual salaries—$181,497 and $173,949, respectively. Based on Federal regulations, we determined VA could not reduce their annual salaries upon reassignment despite the decrease in the scope of their responsibilities. However, a senior executive’s annual salary can be reduced if the individual receives a less than fully successful annual summary rating, fails to meet performance requirements for a critical element, or, as a disciplinary or adverse action resulting from conduct related activity.
We made criminal referrals to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Columbia, regarding official actions orchestrated by Ms. Rubens and Ms. Graves. Formal decisions regarding prosecutorial merit are pending. We provided 12 recommendations to VA to increase oversight of VA’s PCS program and to determine the appropriate administrative actions to take, if any, against senior VBA officials.


site search by freefind advanced

Updated: 09/29/2015 6:45 PM
Created: 09/29/2015 6:06 PM
By: Tom Hauser

When Kimberly Graves took over as director of the St. Paul Veterans Affairs Regional Office last October it was a homecoming of sorts.

She once worked in the office back in 1997 and 1998. Now, according to a Veterans Affair Office of Inspector General report, it appears Graves inappropriately engineered her latest transfer to St. Paul for "personal and financial benefit."

The report said she influenced the transfer of the former director of the St. Paul office to the Baltimore office so she could volunteer to take the St. Paul job. The report said she did so, in part, to be "closer to her mother."

"We determined that Ms. Graves also inappropriately used her position of authority for personal and financial benefit when she participated personally and substantially in creating the St. Paul VARO Veterans Affairs Regional Office) vacancy and then volunteering for the vacancy," the report stated.

Even though the position in St. Paul had less responsibility than her former job on the East Coast, she retained her salary of $173,949. She was also paid $129,467 in "relocation expenses."

"This is outrageous and it appears it was manipulated," Minnesota Congressman Tim Walz, (D) 1st District, said. "Creating positions that weren't really true to try to justify getting around a ban we put on bonuses."

When contacted at her Twin Cities home, Graves declined to comment, telling 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS "the office of public affairs can respond to you."

Walz said the Graves case was discovered after a whistleblower tipped off investigators about another VA official in a similar situation. Diana Rubens moved from Washington, DC, to Philadelphia for a job with fewer responsibilities. She retained her $181,000 salary and was paid $274,000 in relocation expenses for a 140-mile move.

Walz says he's outraged by what he views as misuse of taxpayer funds. 

"Is this taking away services for veterans by this type of thing happening?," Walz said, himself a military veteran. "Are we spending taxpayer money on things that aren't providing quality care for veterans?"

A spokesman for the VA said they're cooperating with the inspector general and will re-examine "relocation and incentive procedures."

The Graves and Rubens cases will be considered for criminal prosecution.

View the full report here.