WASHINGTON, October 6, 2016 — After nearly a year, whistleblowers at a Pennsylvania Veteran Administration (VA) hospital have been exonerated.
“The Administrative Investigative Board (AIB) is complete and no action is being taken,” according to a memo by Judy Hayman, the interim Director at the Altoona (PA) VA Medical Center, to James DeNofrio, an employee and whistleblower at the hospital.
According to Andrea Young, public affairs officer for the Altoona VA Medical Center, an AIB is an “in internal review and results are usually not publicly disclosed. This is an important process we use to get to the ground truth and where there is evidence, hold people accountable. Recommendations in an AIB are delivered to the VA facility’s leadership and are reviewed for follow up”
DeNofrio, fellow whistleblower Tim Skarada and their entire department have been the subjects of this AIB since December 2015.
The AIB was delayed several times, prompting Senator Robert Casey, D-Penn., to make several inquiries to determine when it would be complete.
The determination comes just weeks after CDN first published an article about the events surrounding the AIB.
Besides this memo, DeNofrio received no other documentation from the hospital, though, presumably, a ten-month investigation was conducted including numerous interviews, notes, all of which should have generated a report.
The notification only came after DeNofrio complained to Dr. Michael Adelman, the head of Veteran Integrated Services Network (VISN) 4, the region which includes the Altoona VA Medical Center, that he hadn’t received written notice:
Per below, the Altoona VAMC Acting Director, Dr. Judy Hayman, and Pittsburgh HR Specialist, Mr. Markich, met with me on September 29, 2016 to discuss the AIB that was convened against me, two other whistleblowers known to the VA, and also our entire Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Service at the Altoona VAMC (30 plus employees) by Mr. William Mills, SES on December 18, 2015 per below. Per below, my understanding is that no action is to be taken against me following the 10 month AIB investigation. However, my understanding from discussion with Dr. Hayman and Mr. Markich last week is that neither I nor the other whistleblowers will be given written notification from the AIB Convening Authority that the investigation has been completed and will only receive a nondescript email summary of the verbal discussion held at the meeting from Mr. Markich at an unspecified date in the future.” DeNofrio wrote in an email on October 3, 2016.
The following day, Hayman provided him with the memo.
Skarada, another whistleblower implicated in the AIB, said in an email:
“Dr. Hayman, acting director Altoona VAMC. Informed me at my AIB that she personally decided not to pursue the recommendations of the AIB board.” Skarada said, “which she stated demonstrated multiple instances of ‘inappropriate behavior’ by myself and my staff. I stated I disagreed with her statement and asked examples and clarification. They gave none. When I asked about the ‘upward bullying’ claims against us, the HR representative laughed as I made reference to its irrelevance (as it (is) Australian Law.)”
In December 2015, an AIB was convened at the behest of the Altoona VA Medical Center Director William Mills, after Mills alleged that by DeNofrio and Skarada taking their complaints to the Office of Special Counsel and other government agencies that this amounted to “upward bullying.”
Mills was quietly moved from the Altoona VA Medical Center to the Memphis VA Medical Center days after the results of the OSC complaint were revealed and retired at the end of September.
Since the OSC results have been made public, the hospital has also become the subject of an Office of Inspector General investigation and an investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights.
Young released this statement.
“The James E. Van Zandt VA Medical Center is committed to conducting a thorough and comprehensive review that looks at every aspect of the situation and identifies mistakes made to ensure that they are not repeated. We owe that to Veterans, taxpayers, and the huge majority of VA employees who do the right thing each and every day.
“An administrative investigative board (AIB) is an internal review process. Recommendations in an AIB are delivered to the VA facility’s leadership and are reviewed for follow up.
“As stated in the memo to Mr. DeNofrio from Acting Director, Dr. Judy Hayman, no action has been taken based on this AIB. Dr. Hayman has met with the parties involved in the AIB along with AFGE union representation.”