MEMPHIS, March 8, 2016 – The Veteran Administration (VA) official at the center of a growing firestorm may have made a series of misstatements to a Congressman.
William Mills, former Director at the James Van Zandt VA Medical Center (VAMC), has come under fire for his role in retaliation against whistleblowers James DeNofrio and Timothy Skarada and an alleged subsequent coverup. Both DeNofrio and Skarada complained about the loss of brain cognition of Dr. Fred Struthers.
On April 29, 2015, Mills sent a letter to Congressman Bill Shuster, a Republican representing Pennsylvania’s 9th Congressional District, which includes the Altoona VAMC.
In the letter, Mills challenged several assertions made by Altoona VA employee and whistleblower, James DeNofrio.
“The following agencies have investigated concerns on behalf of Mr. DeNofrio: Office of Resolution Management, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Office of Special Counsel, Office of Inspector General, VAMC Privacy Officer, Veteran Health Administration Privacy Officer. In each case, outcomes of the investigations have been communicated to Mr. DeNofrio.”
But several of those investigations were still ongoing at the time the letter was written. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) investigation for one was only completed in February 2016 when Carolyn Lerner, head of OSC, sent a letter to the President and Congress.
Andrea Young, Public Affairs Officer for Altoona VAMC, said in an email statement the language used Mills was merely inexact and not meant to mislead, “In paragraph two of Mr. Mills letter to Congressman Bill Shuster dated April 29, there is no mention of all investigations having been ‘completed.’ However, the last sentence which indicates, ‘outcomes of the investigations have been communicated to Mr. DeNofrio,’ could be misconstrued to mean that the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) investigation had been ‘completed,’ although it was still in progress. This is a simple error of wording, and should not be considered to be a material misstatement to Congressman Shuster. All other investigations are addressed appropriately in this letter.”
Casey Contres, Press Secretary for Congressman Shuster, did not respond to an email requesting a comment.
According to a letter written by DeNofrio to Shuster’s office on May 12, 2015, along with the OSC investigation DeNofrio stated that investigations by the VAOIG’s office and the Office of Resolution Management were still ongoing at the time the letter was written.
Though Mills claimed DeNofrio was kept abreast of the status of all investigations, in July 2015, DeNofrio wrote an email to the House Veteran Affairs Committee (HVAC) asking for information on the status of the VAOIG investigation, “I have been requesting information regarding the status of these investigations including multiple FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests since April 2015 without a response from VAOIG.”
A source at HVAC had previously told CDN that the committee is currently conducting its own investigation into the matter.
Mills also told this to Shuster, “My most serious concern was Mr. DeNofrio’s newest claim to you that there had been danger to public health or safety, and even patient deaths at the VAMC.”
“Regarding my claim to you that there had been danger to the public health and safety and even patient deaths related to the Altoona VAMC.” DeNofrio stated in his response to Shuster. “I believe the Director’s response to that concern is also false as this claim is not new to Mr. Mills.”
DeNofrio went on to note that he had made complaints about patient safety issues regarding Dr. Struthers as far back as late 2013.
Young did not address this in her response.
Dr. Struthers had been removed from seeing patients in March 2015, placed on leave in June 2015, and allowed to retire shortly after his fifth year at the VA in November 2015.
Mills was recently named the Interim Director at the Memphis VAMC and the Public Affairs Officer there, Willie Logan, also did not respond to an email for comment.