A key critic of the embattled former director of the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs benefits office launched a new bid Tuesday to get her to repay the $274,000 the government spent to relocate her from Washington to Delaware County last year.
Rep. Jeff Miller (R., Fla.), chairman of the House VA committee, introduced legislation that would allow the agency to recoup relocation expenses paid to employees, something he said the agency claims it cannot legally do.
"We aim to fix that with this bill," Miller said in a statement. "And if VA leaders are interested in justice being served, they will enthusiastically support this measure."
Diana Rubens was demoted and reassigned to the agency's Houston office last month amid allegations that she schemed to get herself moved from Washington to Philadelphia, a post with fewer responsibilities but the same pay, to be closer to family.
About $80,000 of the relocation expenses went to Rubens, while the rest was paid to the contractor who bought her Virginia home.
Miller has argued that Rubens should reimburse the agency for the full amount because its top watchdog found she had abused her authority to get the job. The watchdog has recommended a federal criminal investigation.
Rubens did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. She has not publicly addressed the allegations since they emerged. During testimony before Miller's committee this fall, she invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
When asked about the agency's authority or desire to recoup the relocation expenses, a VA spokeswoman said officials believe a debt may be owed if the employee receives an "improper payment" but would not say if that was the case with Rubens. "Improper payments are any payments that should not have been made or that were made in an incorrect amount," spokeswoman Walinda West said.
Miller's bill would allow the VA to seek to recoup those expenditures but also give employees the right to appeal such a move to a third-party arbitrator. If passed, the measure would be retroactive and apply to Rubens and a second VA employee accused of also orchestrating her relocation.
Lauren Gaydos, spokeswoman for the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, where the bill would head if passed by the House, said that committee had not yet reviewed the legislation. But she said the committee's chairman, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R., Ga.), thinks the VA's response to the relocation scandal has been "an insult to veterans."
In January, Miller introduced a similar bill to allow the VA to recoup bonuses paid to managers implicated in the national scandal over long waiting times and substandard service to veterans. It passed the House but has not moved in the Senate.