The Department of Veterans Affairs stated Thursday that it will not adhere to the demands of southern Illinois congressman Mike Bost to remove the chief of Human Resources at the Marion VA Medical Center.
"We have no reason to do so," the VA said in a statement emailed to the Marion Republican by Kevin Harris, public affairs officer at the Marion VA Medical Center.
"(Human Resources Chief Tim) Hartwell has served VA with dedication and distinction for many years," the message continues.
"His expertise was instrumental in helping guide several important recent recruiting efforts, including hiring a new medical center director, associate director, chief of staff, chief of extended care, chief of medicine, chief of engineering, and chief of surgery.
"He also implemented an electronic performance appraisal system that was recognized nationally as a best practice."
On Jan. 23, Bost (R-Murphysboro) and Jack Bergman (R-Michigan) wrote to Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, calling for the removal of the Human Resources director at the VA hospital.
They did not name Hartwell directly, but the VA's email on Thursday confirmed he is the person in question.
The Marion Republican has attempted to talk with Hartwell, and has asked the Marion VA for access to him.
Bergman is the chairman of the congressional Veterans Affairs subcommittee on oversight and investigations. Bost is a member of the committee.
Last week, Bost said the problems uncovered in the subcommittee's six-month investigation of the Marion VA include "grossly inconsistent salaries among staff, low morale and a lack of proper training and discipline." The HR department is failing in its core mission, he added.
Of the "numerous systemic issues" that the investigation uncovered, Bost and Bergman's letter to Shulkin details prolonged difficulties recruiting and retaining staff; failures to track and enforce training standards; and an inability to discipline employees.
"Our heroes deserve the best care possible, and unqualified leadership in the HR department at Marion prevents that from happening," Bost said in a news release his staff issued on Jan. 24. "That's why I have appealed directly to the VA Secretary to get an HR team in place at Marion that can clean up the mess."
In its email to the Marion Republican on Thursday, the VA appears to confuse the source of the allegations against Hartwell.
The Marion Republican emailed questions to the VA after Bost and Bergman made public their concerns on Jan. 24. One of them was, "Will (Hartwell) be fired from the VA or will he be transferred to another position?"
The VA's reply on Thursday was: "He will neither be fired nor transferred. If you have specific evidence that would warrant such an action, please share it and we will look into it right away. Otherwise, we ask that you consider noting in your story that we asked the Daily Republican for evidence -- not hearsay or vague complaints lacking documentation -- and the Daily Republican could not provide."
The Marion Republican was formerly called the Daily Republican. This newspaper has no record of getting questions from the VA over the congressmen's allegations, and has asked Kevin Harris for clarification.