By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY – This week, the book-cooking scandal that has rocked the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs manifested itself in Alabama in an ugly way. US House Representative Martha Roby said Wednesday that though she was told by the director of the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System that all involved employees had been fired, that was not, in fact the case. This came after she and her staff met with the CAVHCS Director James Talton.
Representative Roby explains in a statement:
“Last week, in a meeting he requested, Director Talton made it clear to me and my district director that those responsible for falsifying wait list records in central Alabama were no longer working at the VA, due in part to action he took to remove them. I have now learned that wasn’t true. No one had been fired. That means the employees responsible for falsifying wait list records are still working at the VA in Alabama.”
Over the last month, scrutiny of the scandal at the VA has intensified, with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki (the highest ranking Asian-American in the US military) resigning over the issue on the last day of May.
Much of the controversy has surrounded VA health care services wait times, with some waiting periods extending months, despite falsified VA records denoting otherwise.
Some of the worst wait times of any VA facilities nationwide are right here in Alabama. The CAVHCS facility in Montgomery has the sixth longest wait time for mental health services in the US, with an average veteran waiting around 57 days to receive care. The Birmingham facilities average wait time is 31 days, in Tuscaloosa 47 days, and in Mobile 49 days.
Blaming a “cover-your-own-back” mentality at the VA, Rep. Roby has said that the lies told to her by the CAVHCS director are indicative of a larger problem.
“Remember that the issue at hand is the falsification of records to hide poor performance. For Director Talton to give the false impression that appropriate action had been taken when it had actually had not is emblematic of the backward priorities within the VA bureaucracy. If a member of Congress can’t get a straight answer from the VA, just think what our veterans go through on a daily basis.”
Roby said her office is still investigating the incident, and the claims made by the CAVHCS director.
“This breach of trust has caused my office to dig even deeper into what it really going on in Montgomery,” she said. “I believe there is more to this story.”