By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVCHS) Director James Talton and Chief of Staff Dr. Cliff Robinson have both been removed from their positions at the very troubled Montgomery VA facility.
U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R) from Montgomery and U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R) from Alabama both applauded the management changes at CAVHCS. The pair noted in a Thursday August 21 written statement that the installation of new leadership is an important step toward better health care for area veterans.
Late Thursday the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs confirmed that both CAVHCS Director James Talton and Chief of Staff Dr. Cliff Robinson have been removed from their positions. Shelby and Roby had both been highly critical of the administration at CAVHCS and has sent a letter to newly installed Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald urging him to take action.
Congresswoman Roby said in a written statement, “Leadership starts at the top, and this change in senior management at CAVHCS was sorely needed. I applaud the VA for taking decisive action. Our local system is infested with a culture of complacency when it should in fact be home to a culture of excellence. Congress gave Secretary McDonald the tools he needs to hold people accountable and make improvements in care, and we will expect him to use those tools. We’ve worked very hard to fully understand the problems at CAVHCS, and I think this move is a step toward finding solutions—but it is only one step. We’ll continue to work with the VA to hold bad actors responsible, support positive changes, and ensure that we get the best care possible to our veterans.”
Senator Shelby said in a written statement, “When I met with Secretary Robert McDonald last month prior to his confirmation, he assured me that he would act expeditiously to address my and Congresswoman Martha Roby’s concerns about the inexcusable mismanagement of the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System. His action today in replacing the two top officials in Montgomery who presided over such mistreatment is a promising sign that he is serious about addressing the many problems at the VA across the country, and particularly in Montgomery. This is only the first step in a difficult journey to improve care for our veterans, but it is an important one and I welcome it.”
The VA has named Robin Jackson, Ph.D., as the acting medical center Director at CAVHCS, and Srinivas Ginjupalli, M.D., has been named the acting Chief of Staff. Dr. Jackson is the deputy network director at the VA Southeast Network in Duluth, Ga. while Dr. Ginjupalli is the deputy chief of staff at CAVHCS. According to the VA, both Director Talton and Dr. Robinson have been placed on administrative leave.
In July, Congress passed bipartisan legislation that greatly expands the Patient Centered Community Care (PC3) program to allow more veterans to seek care from non-VA providers and allocated more funds to hire additional doctors, while giving the VA more power to fire or demote Senior Executive Service employees for poor performance.
Sen. Shelby and Rep. Roby in their letter to Secretary McDonald wrote: “Reports regarding the treatment of veterans in Alabama are dire and appalling. While we have yet to see a comprehensive account of the allegations, it is our understanding that the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS) has the eighth longest average wait times in the nation for veterans to receive care, even with its recorded manipulated recordkeeping. Whistleblowers allege that veterans’ x-rays have been lost, which may have in turn led to cancer and other life-threatening conditions going untreated. The leadership of the CAVHCS is alleged to have tolerated or encouraged whistleblower intimidation and retaliation, which possibly continued and exacerbated the abuse. To date, we do not believe that proper action has been taken to mitigate these allegations. Instead of swiftly working to fix the serious problems at the CAVHCS, all reports suggest that its leaders are focused on dodging blame and personal cost rather than serving veterans and providing the care and treatment promised. We have lost trust in the leadership at the CAVHCS.”
Just this week allegations were made that a CAVHCS employee drove a troubled vet to a local crack house, bought the vet drugs, and hired the services of a prostitute while on the unauthorized ‘field trip.’ That employee, like the VA pulmonologist who was discovered to have falsified more than 1,200 patient records, are both still on the job. The allegedly dishonest pulmonologist received a “satisfactory performance” review from the VA despite being a repeat offender.
Rep. Roby’s office has been investigating serious allegations of mismanagement, negligence and cover-up within Central Alabama’s VA system. Two senior members of her staff have been assigned to meet with whistle blowers and to identify and expose problems within the system.
Rep. Roby said on Thursday, “I want to thank all those who had the courage to step forward and provide my office with information regarding the problems at CAVHCS. I know that there has been real fear of retaliation, which makes these individual’s willingness to expose wrongdoing so admirable.”
The new leadership at CAVCHS will have to deal with the growing amount of evidence against staff and employees at CAVCHS while improving the care delivered to VA employees.