Shulkin: VA plans quicker action to stem employee drug theft

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, left, shakes hands with Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin before the start of a m

WASHINGTON (AP) — Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said Tuesday the department was taking immediate steps to remove employees found to have stolen opioid and other drugs from VA medical centers, citing a flawed accountability process that has delayed disciplinary action.

Shulkin said 300 out of the VA's 1,500 pending cases of employee misconduct involve drug theft. He said in response to rising cases of reported drug theft, the department had recently issued new policy to make clear it would have no tolerance for the theft and would proceed with possible disciplinary action.

"There will be an investigation. People will have a due process. But if it's determined that our employees are involved in diverting drugs, there will be zero tolerance and we will move for immediate removal," Shulkin said.

The Associated Press reported last month that federal authorities were investigating dozens of new cases of possible opioid and other drug theft by VA employees, even after the VA announced "zero tolerance" in February. Since 2009, in only about 3 percent of the reported cases of drug loss or theft have doctors, nurses or pharmacy employees been disciplined, according to VA data obtained by AP.

Shulkin disclosed the new efforts as he touted a bill passed by Congress that would make firing employees easier for the beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs. He acknowledged to reporters at an event sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor that accountability legislation would not likely speed up action in at least 1,200 cases because the alleged misconduct happened before the bill's passage.

Shulkin said the accountability bill was not intended to be "a tool to lead to mass firings" but to remove a smaller group of bad actors at the VA. He said President Donald Trump was expected to sign the bill as early as this week.

___

Follow Hope Yen on Twitter at https://twitter.com/hopeyen1