AND YOU ALL THOUGHT THE VETERANS ADMINISTRATION WAS TOTALLY TRANSPARENT AND ABOVE BOARD ON EVERYTHING IT DOES!
BUCKLE UP BUTTERCUP.......YOU'RE IN FOR A RIDE.
VA Secretary Robert McDonald told The Clarion-Ledger his agency has been working on streamlining the process so employees can be disciplined more quickly.
McDonald acknowledged it’s more difficult to discipline VA employees than those in the private sector, but he disputed accusations that too few VA employees have been fired since he took over. “You can't fire your way to excellence,” he said.
He recently rebutted claims of a lack of accountability at the VA.
“Don't think we hold people accountable? Tell that to the VA employee in Augusta, Georgia, recently convicted of falsifying health care records. He's facing sentencing that could include years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines,” he said. “All told, we've terminated over 3,750 employees in two years."
Still, examples abound of VA employees who have kept their jobs, or even been promoted, for what many businesses would consider firing offenses.
Timm Metrolis continues to work as a medical technician at the G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson, earning $47,481 a year, despite being a registered sex offender.
He was given a suspended prison sentence in Florida after pleading no contest to charges he sexually molested a minor in 1994.
Metrolis said VA officials knew of his felony when they hired him. “It was listed in my application.”
As for the conviction, he maintains it’s not true, saying he was falsely accused by his estranged wife seeking child custody.
Asked why he was convicted of a criminal offense then, he said he had a public defender who urged him to go ahead and plead so he could go on with his life.
“This was all before sex offender registries,” he said. “I was just out of the military.”
He said if he had known his name would appear in a sex offender registry, “I would have tried to fight it harder.”
He isn’t the only one convicted of a sex offense working at a VA hospital. Tito Santiago Martinez at the VA Caribbean medical center was, too.
He told a reporter there were no children in the hospital “so they figure I could not harm anyone here.”
As a human resources official, he helped hire and fire employees at the hospital.
One of those hired? Braxton Linton, who began working at the VA hospital just weeks after being released from prison for stealing $70,000 using credit card information he stole from his previous employer.
His job at the hospital? Buying prosthetics with government-issued credit cards.
After fellow employee Elizabeth Rivera reportedly took part in a late-night armed robbery, the VA Caribbean medical center gave her time off to serve her jail sentence on the misdemeanor charge to which she pleaded guilty. After she was done, she returned.
Her job? Working in the security office, where she earns $40,465 a year.
VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. David J. Shulkin reassured the public in a statement, “There was never any indication that the employee posed a risk to veterans or VA property.”
At that same VA hospital, a liver doctor, Dr. Carlos Rosado, called to consult on another physician’s patient, decided to perform an unrelated lung operation without consulting that physician, apparently to give experience to his wife, a resident he was supervising in the operating room.
Hours later, the patient died of complications.
Rather than being fired, he was promoted to chief of nephrology.
The head of the VA Caribbean medical center, DeWayne Hamlin, who earns $179,700 a year, was arrested April 26, 2014, after Florida police found he smelled of alcohol and had an oxycodone pill in his pocket for which he did not have a prescription. He refused to take a Breathalyzer test and was charged, but the case has since been dismissed.
Hamlin previously served as director of the VA medical centers in Lexington, Kentucky, and Boise, Idaho.
At the Jackson VA, authorities arrested Dorothy “Dot” Taylor on May 23, 2012, on a prescription fraud charge. The associate director of patient care had already been on administrative leave a month, still drawing her $162,212-a-year salary.
She had reportedly gotten a dozen doses (a three-day supply) of the opioid painkiller hydrocodone from a VA physician — only to get a dozen doses of the same painkiller a day later from a doctor outside the VA hospital.
According to documents obtained by the Justice Department's Office of Special Counsel, DEA agents were told Taylor had undergone a stint in drug rehab but afterward continued exhibiting signs of drug abuse, wearing dark sunglasses indoors and slurring her words by the end of the workday.
Dr. Phyllis Hollenbeck echoed those claims in her 2013 testimony before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, saying Jackson VA officials had concerns regarding Taylor’s “abnormal behavior consistent with what is called an ‘impaired employee,’ especially due to possible substance abuse.”
Despite such problems, Taylor wielded great power at the Jackson VA, Hollenbeck testified.
When she arrived at the Jackson VA, she said she was told “Dot Taylor controls the real estate” and that when she wanted to move her exam room closer to her medical assistant, she had to get Taylor’s permission.
She also testified nurse practitioners did not answer to any physician, as required, but to Taylor, who was called “Dr. Taylor.” (Taylor had a Ph.D., but was a nurse, not a medical doctor.)
Charles Jenkins, president of the Local 589 of the American Federation of Government Employees, testified before the House Committee that Taylor threatened to kill him after he filed a complaint detailing her mistreatment of employees, her hiring her nephew and “her alleged receipt of prescribed controlled substances from certain VA providers.”
On Feb. 25, 2013, the Jackson VA, with the approval of the Veterans Health Administration, placed her on indefinite suspension without pay based on “reasonable cause to believe she had committed a crime.”
Less than a month later, the charges against her in Rankin County were dropped, and she won a job at the South Central VA Health Care Network, which oversees the Jackson VA and eight other VA hospitals, plus outpatient clinics and vet centers. She earned $162,212 in annual pay and has since retired.
She could not be reached for comment.
Frederick Kevin Harris, a nursing assistant, is still employed at the VA Hospital in Alexandria, Louisiana, despite being charged with manslaughter, accused of causing the death of 70-year-old psychiatric patient and U.S. Air Force veteran Charles Lee Johnson, on March 13, 2013.
Despite the criminal charge, the VA concluded he is not at fault. He continues to work, drawing his $37,270 in base pay.
He is set to go on trial Jan. 9.
The VA has already paid out $215,000 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Johnson’s sister, Elizabeth Burke, who was initially told her brother had fallen. She found bruises on his neck, and the pathologist ruled that Johnson died of blunt force trauma to the head.
Harris had been previously arrested for assault, accused of striking a relative in the face, but was never prosecuted.
In 2014, Congress passed a bill that made it easier to fire senior executives in the VA guilty of misconduct or poor performance, but that law didn’t extend to other employees.
It did apply to the the director of the troubled regional benefits office in Reno, Nevada, which handled disability applications. But instead when he did such a lousy job VA officials sent him home for a year — with pay.
Then, rather than fire him, VA officials “created a special job for him where he can telework from Reno to be an adviser to somebody here in Washington,” U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said in a November hearing. “It was a totally created job.”
Manslaughter charge to new job
On June 2, 2010, Jed Fillingim, then-assistant director for the Jackson VA, had been bar hopping in the Dallas area with his fiancée, Amy Wheat, a 38-year-old nurse recruiter for the Jackson VA, and Chad Barney, who worked for a VA hospital in Dallas.
They were reportedly riding to another bar in a VA-owned Ford F-350 truck when the accident took place.
In his call, Barney told the 911 operator, “I’ve got a girl that got hit … by a car.”
A witness told police she saw a woman lying on the concrete and that she pulled over and could tell the woman had suffered extreme injuries.
Although the witness didn’t see what happened, a pathologist concluded that Wheat’s injuries were consistent with a truck running over her.
The witness said two white men then pulled up in a white truck, saying the woman needed to go to the hospital and loaded her into their truck.
At 11 p.m., Allen Schieck, a police officer in Addison, Texas, interviewed the witness, who told him the men in the white truck drove east.
Schieck called 11 area hospitals, unable to find the victim.
At 12:48 a.m., a dispatcher told Schieck that Dallas police had pulled over the two white men in the white truck. Police found Wheat in the back seat, dead.
It was another six hours before police were able to give Fillingim a blood-alcohol test. He tested at 0.03, under the legal limit. (Wheat’s blood-alcohol level tested at 0.24.)
Under questioning, he told police that when he was driving that night with Wheat and Barney, he looked in the truck’s back seat, and Wheat “wasn’t there, so I did a U-turn and went back and there she was laying in the road.”
He said he had no idea what Wheat “was doing, if she fell out, jumped out.”
Her mother, Annette Berry, said his explanation made no sense because he ran over her daughter with the truck.
Police charged Fillingim with intoxication manslaughter, but Texas authorities never pursued the prosecution.
The Jackson VA put Fillingim on paid leave, and he resigned in November 2010.
Months later, VA officials in Georgia hired him, rewarding him with a six-figure salary.
According to a draft memo obtained by The Clarion-Ledger, a VA investigation discovered that VA officials in Augusta, Georgia, interviewing Fillingim for a job there failed to ask him why he resigned, failed to ask questions about Wheat’s death, failed to catch his 2008 drunken driving conviction and failed to catch his 2009 disorderly conduct conviction.
The investigation also discovered that he had improperly used a government vehicle and shown “a lack of candor by certifying that he had a valid driver’s license when … he did not have a valid license,” according to the memo.
On his job application, Fillingim failed to answer “yes” when he was asked whether he “resigned in lieu of removal or by mutual consent due to unfavorable circumstances.”
The VA investigation concluded there was a “case for serious disciplinary action,” including a demotion.
But no demotion took place, and Fillingim has continued to earn raises from the VA, with a salary now topping $108,000.
Berry questioned why the VA did nothing.
Although the VA and others reached a settlement in the lawsuit with her and her family, she is still looking for answers. “I want to know what happened to my baby,” she said, “and I want the VA to be accountable for their actions.”
She said her daughter’s death “changed my life forever and forever. She was my only child. It was very traumatic to me. I still see a psychiatrist.”
A medical mystery
Dr. Daniel K. Kim, a 59-year-old ophthalmologist, is still employed at the Jackson VA, despite World War II veteran Charles West winding up blind when Kim performed a routine cosmetic surgery in 2006.
The VA denied any wrongdoing, calling it a medical mystery.
In 1997, a patient of Kim’s, Judy Loveless, died during routine cosmetic surgery in a Georgia clinic. Charged with forging her consent form, Kim surrendered his Georgia medical license and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge.
He has denied doing anything wrong in either case.
In a deposition, he acknowledged the VA gave him “unsatisfactory” scores for both his ethics and his care of patients.
Despite this, the VA allowed Kim to continue to operate.
In April 2012, he implanted the wrong lens in a patient’s eye and had to conduct a second operation to remove it and put in the right one.
Taxpayers continue to pay his more than $192,000 in annual base pay. He works these days at the Jackson VA out of an office for facilities management, which handles housekeeping, safety, maintenance and other duties.
He would not discuss the matters.
Miller said until the VA “starts putting veterans’ customer service before the job security of misbehaving employees, the department will continue to lurch from one scandal to another, and veterans will continue to pay the price.”