Leaders at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs say findings reported this week by NBC 5 Investigates are disturbing, and members of Congress promise an investigation into the rehiring of a hospital administrator who resigned his position following the 2010 accident in which he was the driver.
In partnership with NBC in Washington, NBC 5 Investigates has obtained a 2011 drafted memo showing top administrators at the VA held a meeting just three months after rehiring Jed Fillingim to find out how he landed another job with the agency.
On a summer night in 2010, Fillingim admitted to drinking then driving a government truck with two other VA employees on a business trip in Dallas.
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One of them was 38-year-old Amy Wheat, who fell from the moving truck along a street in Addison and died.
“She was wonderful. She was the love of my life,” said Wheat's mother, Annette Berry, about her only daughter.
In the end, police found no evidence of foul play, and they determined Wheat fell out of the vehicle on her own. Fillingim was not charged with any crime.
He resigned months after the incident, but NBC 5 Investigates learned the VA soon rehired him for another job with a six-figure salary in Georgia.
In a statement the VA said, “…The hiring process regarding this employee that took place three years ago is deeply regrettable and not as thorough as it should have been.”
But more than four years later, Fillingim still works for the agency.
NBC Washington Investigative Reporter Scott MacFarlane caught up with the VA’s deputy secretary and questioned why Fillingim is still employed and if that was sending a bad message to the rest of the agency.
“I am concerned. I think it's unfortunate. That’s an issue that I looked about a number of months back and what I was able to conclude was that there was a settlement in place and that my ability to talk in any detail about the instances and that or to take any further action was eliminated,” said VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson.
Gibson would not say what that settlement is.
Wheat’s family sued the VA after her death and the case was settled.
Gibson was asked about his reaction to NBC Washington’s report about Fillingim’s rehiring and he said it was, “inappropriate behavior. Failure to hold people accountable.”
The drafted memo shows the administrator who rehired Fillingim, “was aware of the employee’s previous resignation, but did not ask the employee why the employee resigned because she was not on the interview panel.”
It also stated Fillingim “did not answer affirmatively to the question regarding whether he resigned in lieu of removal or by mutual consent due to unfavorable circumstances.”
In a statement, Fillingim wrote, “While I am unable to comment specifically about my status, I will say that I followed all rules and requirements for Federal employment in 2011. I acknowledge having made mistakes in the past that I am deeply regretful of but I remain fully committed to the mission of the VA and the Veterans we serve.”
But, now, the chairman of the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee says he wants action.
“Accountability is not VA's strongest suit. Even with new law that we have given them to hold people accountable, they've chosen not to implement that law as we asked," said committee chairman U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida.
Wheat’s mom said Fillingim should be fired.
“I just feel like he took my life and you’re never the same. You never get over it and people say time heals. Time does not heal,” Berry said.
Congress is not done investigating. Rep. Miller said he will question the secretary of the VA next week about how Fillingim’s continued employment at a hearing in Washington. The chairman said the case highlights how badly the VA handles problems with employees.