Claims of whistleblower retaliation at Beckley VA Hospital

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WASHINGTON, June 6, 2017 – A whistleblower at the Beckley (West Virginia) VA Medical Center (BVAMC) alleges that the Veteran’s Hospital engaged in numerous corrupt acts- including a secret waitlist. When she spoke out, she claims, she was terminated.  Tammy Mitchell is speaking out for the first time about the conditions she witnessed at BVAMC.

A registered nurse for more than two decades Mitchell and worked at the BVAMC starting in 2006; she became the Home Based Primary Care (HBPC)Director at the BVAMC on January 18, 2009.

“My purpose to this letter is to disclose to you thirteen serious wrongdoings conducted by employees at the Beckley VA Medical Center that I discovered immediately after taking that position (Home Based Primary Care Director,” Mitchell stated in a letter to her then-Congressman Bobby Rahall and Senator Joe Manchin, sent on September 5, 2014.

Some of the wrongdoings Mitchell detailed include wrongful patient deaths, intimidation, mismanagement, abuse of authority, and violations of laws.

“I was told to never place a patient on the hospital’s electronic wait list but keep our patients on a private or ‘secret’ wait list in our HPBC file. I was told never to show it (the secret list) to anyone outside the VA.”

Mitchell told this reporter that she only went to her Congressman and Senator after going first to management and the VA Office of Inspector General (VAOIG) be ignored ignored and retaliated against.

“I have received threats on my VA cell phone,” Mitchell said in her letter, “the last one said, ‘This is one of many of the avengers; I’m going to be coming to see you very soon.’”

Mitchell said she contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation shortly after this call which referred her to the VAOIG’s office, but that office went out of its way not to take her call.

“I told Mr. Paul Powis (VAOIG employee) everything that was going on at the BVAMC; then he told me he would call me back after he returned from his vacation in August 2013, He never did and I have repeatedly called him.” Mitchell stated in her letter, “At one point, he answered and when he realized it was me he hung up.”

A confirming voicemail left with the VAOIG was left unreturned.

Mitchell said the stress from the constant threats caused her to take a medical leave in 2012, but in 2015, while still on medical leave, the hospital terminated her employment because she hadn’t renewed her nursing license.

She currently has several cases, one with the Equal Employment Office and another with the Merit Systems Protection Board, to try and get her job back but those remain open and unresolved.

Her attorney, Michael Eisenberg, said it’s unfortunately quite common for the bureaucracy of the EEO and MSPB to take years like it has in Mitchell’s case because he described a dynamic with an overwhelming amount of cases with too few judges which cause a bottleneck.

She said she went to the Congressman’s office after she could not get anyone to investigate her claims on her own.

Democratic Congressman Nick Rahall served the 4th District of West Virginia but lost in 2014, forwarded Mitchell’s complaint to the VAOIG earlier in 2014 which finally started an investigation under Congressional pressure.

That investigation concluded in May 2017, but Mitchell called it a “whitewash.”

“We substantiated that from 2007 through 2012, 25 of 40 patients died while awaiting admission to HBPC. However, we did not find that these patient deaths were associated with a delay in admission to HBPC as the patients continued to receive care from their health care providers prior to their deaths.” The VAOIG report stated.

Mitchell said she did get a small victory in that the VAOIG did conclude there was a secret wait list: “We found that from 2008 through July 2012, HBPC staff kept an unapproved wait list in violation of Veterans Health Administration policy.”

“We found that from 2008 through July 2012, HBPC staff kept an unapproved wait list in violation of Veterans Health Administration policy.”

But for the most part, the report exonerated the hospital: “We did not substantiate HBPC patient scheduling, wait times, and backlogs were mismanaged. We found that, other than the wait list issue cited above, HBPC program managers substantially complied with VHA and facility policies.”

Mitchell said she wondered why it took the VAOIG nearly three years to investigate if the hospital was functioning properly for the most part, as the report concluded.

Mitchell said she is speaking out because conditions at the hospital are not improving: “Vets are dying.” She said.

One of those veterans is her husband, Mickey Mitchell, who has filed a Tort Claim with the hospital over his claim.

“My current injuries and health issues are the direct cause by the BVAMC’s negligence,” Mickey Mitchell said in his claim.

Mickey Mitchell alleged in his complaint that for nearly two decades his kidney was failing but no one at the BVAMC told him until recently: “After finding out I was in Stage 3 Kidney Failure I was devastated.”

“After finding out I was in Stage 3 Kidney Failure I was devastated.”

He said an outside physician ordered him off medication- Triam HCTZ which the VA had prescribed since 1998.

“This physician told me and my wife that after kidney failure was noted this medication should have been discontinued immediately because it can cause further damage to the kidneys.” Mickey Mitchell stated in his claim.

Mickey Mitchell said that shortly after his wife was terminated the hospital began hassling him about using the VA Choice program to get cancer treatment outside the VA.

The Choice program was installed to give veterans an opportunity to see doctors outside the VA; Mickey Mitchell said he was told if he saw a doctor outside the VA he would have to pay for it himself.

“I’ve been asked several times by different people including my doctor why I don’t let this go. The answer is I can’t. August 16, 2017 will make 5 years since I came off of work and even though the OIG, the OSC, and many more have let me down I’ve got to keep fighting.” Tammy Mitchell said. “I do not want any other Whistleblower to go through what I have been through including reprisal for being a Whistleblower and being wrongfully fired after being off work for 3 years and on medical leave & having a current doctor excuse.”

A message left with the BVAMC was left unreturned.

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