WASHINGTON, August 9, 2017 – Despite the Medical Director Stacy Vasquez of the Beckley VA Medical Center saying any issues at that hospital were in the past, a letter from the attorney of yet another whistleblower suggests retaliation continues.
“This correspondence is intended to put Beckley VAMC on notice that your continued harassment of my client, Russell Martin will not be tolerated,” a letter from attorney Jenny Bonham to Beckley VA Medical Center Director Stacy Vasquez from July 21, 2017. “Mr. Martin is a veteran, union representative and former employee who was terminated for blowing the whistle on egregious behavior.”
In 2014, Martin reported to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) that “pharmacists routinely and improperly reject providers prescriptions in favor of less expensive medications, and clinical pharmacy specialists working in the clinics exceed their scope of practice,” according to the Office of Medical Inspections (OMI) report completed in 2015; OSC referred the matter to OMI for investigation.
The OSC is a federal government agency which handles whistleblower complaints while the OMI “addresses health care problems to monitor and improve the quality of care provided by VHA (Veteran Health Administration)” according to its site.
Three business days after this initial disclosure, Martin was told he was being investigated for sexual assault.
Though a subsequent criminal investigation found the allegation meritless, the hospital still convened an Administrative Investigative Board (AIB) which ultimately terminated Martin.
An AIB is an internal VA process which investigates alleged VA employee wrongdoing.
The retaliation persists to this day, according to Benham’s letter.
“Recent defamatory comments by Director (Stacy) Vasquez to the union president, such as, ‘you really don’t want him as your poster child’.” Bonham also said in the letter, “Her comments were contrary to the findings of the OIG, and again painted him as a sexual predator.”
In an interview last month with this reporter, Vasquez pushed back against previous CDN reports painting the hospital as in chaos and retaliating against whistleblowers.
Vasquez stated that any issues occurred before she took over in October 2016.
But the whistleblower retaliation continues, Bonham also stated in the letter that Martin is harassed when he gets treated medically at the hospital.
“Mr. Martin has been routinely subjected to glares, whispers, and the rumor mill when he attends medical appointments,” Bonham said in the letter.
Martin has also been labeled disruptive: “It is my understanding that the agency has encouraged individuals to file complaints to the disruptive behaviors committee about Martin which appears to be aimed at limiting his access to the facility.”
As CDN has documented, labeling whistleblowers as “disruptive” appear to be part of a pattern of whistleblower retaliation in the Veterans Administration.
Both Heather Camren- a whistleblower at the Hines VA- and Sean Higgins- a whistleblower at the Memphis VA- were labeled disruptive in disciplinary actions taken by hospitals; both Camren and Higgins have said the actions were taken as part of retaliatory campaigns.
Though Martin has been subjected to a sustained campaign against his character, OMI substantiated his allegations.
“VA substantiated that the Medical Center’s Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee encouraged providers to switch Veterans from aripiprazole or ziprasidone prescribed by other Veteran Health Administration providers, based on a Pharmacy cost-savings goal for the fiscal year 2013 related to atypical anti-psychotics.”
There also appears to be a conflict of interest in the AIB against Martin.
The AIB was convened by then Medical Director Karin McGraw, even though Martin implicated McGraw in the pharmacy policy.
Vasquez issued this statement:
“As a fellow Veteran and medical center director it is both VA’s and my personal mission to provide all Veteran patients with access to exceptional health care, which we will continue to provide.
“Due to restrictions with human resources and privacy laws I am not able to provide a response to the specific allegations made by this former employee.”