The former director of the Tomah VA Medical Center was allowed to resign and given a six-figure settlement after allegations that the hospital administered dangerous doses of painkillers.
A story published Wednesday, citing confidential settlements obtained by the newspaper, alleges the VA “has for years concealed mistakes and misdeeds by staff members entrusted with the care of veterans” and paid millions of dollars to settle with 230 former employees, including Mario DeSanctis, who was fired in 2015 after media reports revealing a pattern of over-medication of veterans and a culture of intimidation against those who spoke out.
DeSanctis fought his dismissal and eventually struck a deal in which the VA allowed him to resign and paid $163,000 to DeSanctis and his attorney, according to USA Today.
The VA reported that DeSanctis himself received a lump sum payment of $88,000 after appealing his firing to the Merit Systems Protection Board, according to a VA response to questions from Sen. Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin Republican who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
DeSanctis did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
According to the committee’s report, VA investigators alerted DeSanctis to problems at the facility in 2012.
Sloan Gibson, the former deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs, later said “clear and inexcusable lack of leadership” throughout the organization allowed the deaths of at least two patients, including Jason Simcakoski, a 35-year-old Marine who died at the hospital in 2014 from a toxic combination of prescription medications.
His widow, Heather Simcakoski, said she assumed DeSanctis had been fired until she learned otherwise from the news media and called the settlement “really disappointing.”
“In the normal world you don’t get that kind of compensation if you’re leaving on those kind of terms,” Simcakoski said.
Wisconsin lawmakers also decried the settlement.
“Mario DeSanctis put our veterans in harm’s way and he deserved to be fired, not given a golden settlement,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin. “This is yet another example of why I fought to pass bipartisan VA accountability reforms that make it easier to fire people like Mr. DeSanctis.”
Baldwin pointed to a bill signed into law in June that eliminates the Merit Systems Protection Board as a way for senior VA executives to appeal their firings.
U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, whose district includes the facility, said in a written statement, “it is completely unacceptable that VA employees who have failed to do their jobs, including Mr. DeSanctis, are rewarded with large payouts. The VA should be spending our taxpayer money ensuring our veterans receive the care they have earned and deserved.”