WASHINGTON, July 13, 2017 – More individuals have stepped forward to sound the alarm on the Beckley VA Medical Center (BVAMC) even as the medical director pushed back on CDN’s reporting, in an exclusive interview.
Following the release last week of an expose of conditions at the hospital, CDN has spoken to two more individuals who say this only scratches the surface on one of the worst VA hospitals in the nation.
Gavin Vanhoose is a BVAMC employee and whistleblower and LeRon Alexander is a former staffer in Congressman Rahal’s office, who said he referred at least twenty whistleblowers for investigations by the VA Office of Inspector General and the Office of Special Counsel.
“It has every kind of scandal imaginable,”Alexander said.
He said he remembered passing along both a sex scandal and a sexual harassment scandal.
Vanhoose initially blew the whistle on a hopelessly mismanaged benefits eligibility system.
Vanhoose said it was an explosive combination of bad software- one which often made mistakes, poor training, and high turnover caused veterans to be granted improper benefits on a mass scale which he reported to the VAOIG.
Anderson worked at the Beckley VA in a rural community outreach position and Vanhoose replaced him when Anderson left for Congressman Rahall’s office.
Vanhoose, Tammy Mitchell the whistleblower from the previous story, and Alexander all said high turnover for employees was a major factor in the waste, fraud, and abuse at the hospital.
The current medical director is Stacy Vasquez and she also spoke exclusively with CDN; she pushed back on the charges.
Both she and the current chief of staff, Javed Tunio, have been at the hospital for less than a year; Tunio has been acting chief of staff since January 2017, she said.
But Vasquez said because BVAMC is a small hospital it is often a stepping stone for roles at bigger hospitals so the turnover should be expected.
Vasquez also pushed back on the assertion by Mitchell that the VAOIG report in her case was a “whitewash” noting that the VAOIG looked at more than 100,000 emails and voluminous interviews before making their conclusion, which found the hospital was functioning relatively well.
“The Beckley VA Medical Center would like to thank the Office of the VA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for conducting a health care inspection of the Home Based Primary Care (HBPC) program to assess the merit of allegations made by a complainant regarding patient deaths and management deficiencies. Since 2012 the OIG found no evidence of wrongdoing.” Vasquez stated.
She noted the findings:
- Did not substantiate HBPC patient scheduling, wait times, and backlogs were mismanaged.
- Found that HBPC program managers substantially complied with VHA and facility policies.
- Substantiated that an HBPC provider changed a patient’s diagnosis by adding a diabetes diagnosis to the patient’s problem list, but could not determine that the change was made to provide inappropriate services.
- Did not substantiate HBPC providers inappropriately prescribed antibiotics.
- Did not substantiate that providers overprescribed opioids or changed patients’ diagnoses in order to prescribe opioids.
- Made no recommendations.
But Vanhoose said the VAOIG report in his case was also a whitewash and Alexander said the VAOIG investigations never reflected the depth of the problem.
The Office of Special Counsel, which takes whistleblower complaints from throughout the federal government, took the matter more seriously.
A letter from OSC head, Carolyn Lerner, to then President Obama led to a Washington Post story in April 2015.
“A Department of Veterans Affairs medical center in West Virginia put patients at risk by substituting prescribed mental-health medications with older drugs to cut costs, according to a federal investigation.
“The practice, exposed by an agency whistleblower, violated VA policy and created a ‘substantial and specific danger to public health and safety,’ the department’s Office of Medical Inspector found.”
In April 2016, OSC head Lerner sent President Obama another letter about the situation.
“On April 22, 2015, I forwarded you a report prepared by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) based on a whistleblower disclosure regarding the improper restriction on mental health medications by pharmacists at the Beckley VA Medical Center (Beckley VAMC), Beckley, West Virginia,” Lerner noted.
She continued: “In addition, due to the serious nature of the original substantiated allegations, OSC requested a second supplemental report concerning the status of potential disciplinary actions for responsible managers, including the Beckley V AMC director, the chief of staff, and the Chief of Pharmacy.
“The VA’s supplemental report on disciplinary action acknowledged that the Beckley V AMC chief of Pharmacy failed to properly document mental health provider objections to the medication restriction policy and did not apprise senior Beckley V AMC managers of these concerns, in violation of agency policy. The report notes that the chief of Pharmacy resigned in September 2015. In addition, the report determined that senior Beckley VAMC managers ‘did not understand … VHA policy,’ and did not seek guidance from the regional Pharmacy Executive before approving a policy that violated agency rules. However, the report found that these violations were not ‘knowing and willful’ and, therefore, no disciplinary action was recommended.”
Lerner implicated these three people specifically-Karin L. McGraw, Beckley V AMC director;
Brian Nimmo, the associate director; Dr. John Berryman, the chief of staff, and Debra Lynn
Legg, the associate director of Patient Care Services- in her letter and all have since moved on.
McGraw, who was medical director for several scandals, has since moved on to the Pittsburgh VA, which has had three legionnaire’s disease scandals since 2007, bonus scandals, and a plethora of other problems.
Vasquez said there have been no reports while she’s been the medical director; In October 2016 the whistleblowers who spoke with this reporter said that even if the scandals started before she got there, none have been fixed.
OSC continues asking questions; OSC, the VA, and BVAMC whistleblowers have exchanged numerous letters since the start of 2017.
The correspondences relate to older scandals.
“I am responding to your July 1, 2014,” said the Chief of Staff of the US Department of Veteran Affairs Vivieca Wright Thompson to OSC Chair Carolyn Lerner in a letter dated May 16, 2017, “The enclosed reports from VA Office of Inspector General (VAOIG) respond to these allegations and to others that were received through the VA OIG hotline.”
“Enclosed for your review is a copy of a report we received from the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). The report was provided in response to your allegations that employees at the Beckley VA Medical Center Beckley, West Virginia, engaged in conduct that may constitute a violation of the law, rule, or regulation, gross mismanagement, an abuse of authority and a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety,” according to a July 6, 2017, letter from an OSC staffer and the whistleblower, whose name CDN is protecting.”