Despite 20 years of service in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Sharon Helman, former director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, has spent the last year falling from grace. She recently appeared before a judge who sentenced her to two years of probation for not reporting $50,000 worth of gifts she received from a friend.
The Arizona Republic reported that Helman cried during her court session. Despite her tears, U.S. District Judge Steven Logan did not waiver.
"Serving veterans was truly my life's passion, and I am proud of my work," Helman said. "I should have disclosed the gifts I received from a personal friend, but I did not. That was a betrayal …"
Prior to legal proceedings, Helman sent Logan a letter saying that she was unaware of her wrongdoing. Her ignorance irked Logan, who said he almost dropped the plea agreement because she appeared to be shifting blame away from herself.
"When you wrote me that letter and tried to explain to me that you didn't know what you did was wrong, I had a problem," Logan said. "… The reason you didn't report any of it is because deep down you knew … your ethics folks would be looking into every one of those gifts."
Two years ago the VA fired Helman after she was the center of a major controversy surrounding the Phoenix VA Health Care System. Investigators found that employees at the Phoenix facility failed to treat patients in a timely manner. As a result, many died. They also discovered that numerous employees changed patient wait-time information so they could receive performance bonuses.