By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, March 19 U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R from Montgomery) issued two statements after revelations that whistle blowers at the Central Alabama Veteran Health Care System (CAVHCS) have been retaliated against for their role in exposing the scandal and that Department of Veterans Affairs and Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin has admitted that criminal investigators within his department are currently at work in Central Alabama.
Congresswoman Roby questioned Griffin during an oversight hearing of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee. Roby specifically asked Griffin about a ‘Montgomery Advertiser’ report that Richard Tremaine and Sheila Muese, two senior administrators at CAVHCS who divulged the truth about dishonest practices to Rep. Roby’s investigators, have been retaliated against.
Inspector Griffin told the conservative Congresswoman, “Our criminal investigative team continues to have open work in Central Alabama.”
Rep. Roby acknowledged Meuse and Tremaine’s role in exposing the scandal. Rep. Roby said, “The bottom line is this: when nobody at the VA could give me a straight answer, these individuals did.” “They told me the truth about the cover-ups that were happening at the VA, and for that they should be rewarded, not punished or marginalized.”
Rep. Roby said, “My office has been working with these and many other whistleblowers since the VA scandal story broke. We were very careful to keep their identities confidential, but today they felt they had no choice but to come forward.”
Griffin said that Assistant VA Inspector General for Healthcare Inspections, Dr. John Daigh has a team working in Alabama.
In order to improve the timeliness of veterans’ healthcare, Congress authorized the VA to pay bonuses to administrators who could decrease wait times. Rather than doing anything to improve their performance, dozens of VA health care system administrators simply created false paper work. Secret lists of veterans were maintained that never were entered into the system. They were ignored while government bureaucrats collected large bonus checks. The VA scandal became public in Arizona, where a number of veterans died awaiting healthcare; but in an internal report Montgomery’s CAVHCS was shown to be one of the worst offenders in the country.
Amidst growing reports of waitlist manipulation at CAVHCS, Rep. Roby met with then-CAVHCS Director James Talton in June 2014. Talton is alleged to have misled Rep. Roby to believe action had been taken to remove the employees responsible. Meuse and Tremaine revealed to Roby that that was not true. Talton was the first person in the country fired under a new law granting new authority to fire top administrators.
Examples of alleged major misconduct at CAVHCS, included: At least 900 unread patient X-RAY tests – many showing malignancies – were lost for many months, and top hospital administrators tried to cover up the problem, [The Montgomery Advertiser]; The VA regional chief medical officer asked staff to remove all references to the problems with lost X-rays from a report, [The Montgomery Advertiser]; A CAVHCS worker took a recovering veteran patient off campus to a crack house, bought him illegal drugs, may have extorted VA payments to pay for vehicles and services from a prostitute, and fraudulently claimed overtime pay for all the extracurricular activities. Even though the employee was caught and found guilty of the violations he was still an employee of CAVHCS more than a year later, [The Montgomery Advertiser]; The VA pulmonologist who manipulated more than 1,200 patient records was retained, then reoffended and still received a “satisfactory performance” review, [The Montgomery Advertiser]; CAVHCS has a major staff shortage but has done nothing to address the problem, [The Montgomery Advertiser]; CAVHCS is a chronic slow payer which affected its ability to depend on local hospitals to help with increased demand, [Yellowhammer News]; Email records revealed that Talton was alerted to concerns over patient scheduling discrepancies more than eight months before taking action, [The Montgomery Advertiser]; and 57 percent of CAVHCS staff admitted they were instructed to manipulate patient wait times [The Montgomery Advertiser].
Exposing most of this would have been difficult without whistle blowers, starting with Tremaine and Muese, Rep. Roby said. “I’m grateful to them and to all our whistleblowers. Without our sources within the VA, we wouldn’t have been able to expose the waitlist scandal, the unread X-RAY fiasco, the Crack House incident, just go down the list. We’ve been able to expose major problems thanks to inside sources who had the courage to trust me and my staff.”
Rep. Roby is a co-sponsor of House Veterans Affairs Committee legislation granting more protections to whistleblowers at the VA. Rep. Roby suggested further action, “We aren’t done cleaning up the VA. Trust me, there is more to come. Stay tuned.”
On Friday, October 24, former CAVHCS director James Talton was officially terminated for his alleged failures in leadership at CAVHCS. Director Talton was placed on administrative leave in August and then “proposed” for termination pending review while continuing to be paid. His termination action became official in October.
Representative Martha Roby (R from Montgomery) said in a written statement at the time, “Those who presided over the misconduct, negligence and systemic fraud in Central Alabama must be held accountable. Responsibility for what has taken place at the Central Alabama VA doesn’t rest with one person. I don’t expect the director to be the last one fired, nor should he be.”
Congresswoman Martha Roby is in her third term representing the people of Alabama’s Second Congressional District.
Roby warns Americans to be careful this Thanksgiving
Congresswoman Roby urged Alabamians to adjust Thanksgiving holiday activities to avoid spreading the coronavirus.
Congresswoman Martha Roby, R-Alabama, warned Alabamians to adjust their Thanksgiving holiday activities to avoid spreading the coronavirus.
“Thanksgiving is a special holiday because it provides us an entire day each year to pause and give thanks for the many blessings we have received,” Roby said. “Particularly amid a global pandemic, the stress and craziness of life often make it easy to lose sight of just how much we have to be thankful for. Whether you are gathering with loved ones or remaining in the comfort of your own home, I hope we all take time to celebrate gratitude – something we may not do enough of these days.”
“As we’ve learned to adjust our daily routines and activities throughout the course of this pandemic, we know this Thanksgiving will not look like those of the past,” Roby said. “Please be mindful of any safety measures and precautions that have been put in place to help protect your family and those around you. The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) released guidance that includes a list of low, moderate, and high-risk activities in order to help Alabamians have a safer holiday season. ADPH suggests a few lower risk activities such as having a small dinner with members of your household, preparing and safely delivering meals to family and neighbors who are at high-risk, or hosting a virtual dinner with friends.”
Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, echoed Roby’s warning to be safe this Thanksgiving holiday.
Aderholt said: “I want to wish you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving! I hope Thursday is filled with a lot of laughter and gratitude, and that you can share it with friends and family. And while we continue to navigate this Coronavirus pandemic, please stay safe this holiday season.”
On Thursday, the CDC encouraged families to stay home as much as possible over the holiday weekend and avoid spreading the coronavirus.
“As cases continue to increase rapidly across the United States, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with,” the CDC said in a statement before the holiday. “Gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu.”
The CDC has updated its guidelines to encourage families to stay home during the holiday.
- The CDC said that postponing Thanksgiving travel is the “best way to protect” against the virus.
- If you are sick or anyone in your household is sick, whether you think it is COVID or not, do not travel.
- If you are considering traveling for Thanksgiving, avoid traveling to locations where virus activity is high or increasing.
- Avoid travel to areas where hospitals are already overwhelmed with patients who have COVID-19.
- Try to avoid traveling by bus, train or airplane, where staying 6 feet apart is difficult.
- Avoid traveling with people who don’t live with you.
- You should consider making other plans, such as hosting a virtual gathering or delaying travel until the vaccine is available or the pandemic is more under control.
- Discuss with your family and friends the risks of traveling for Thanksgiving.
- Try to dissuade people from visiting this holiday.
- If you do travel, check for travel restrictions before you go and get your flu shot before you travel.
- Always wear a mask in public settings, when using public transportation, and when around people with whom you don’t live.
- Stay at least 6 feet apart from anyone who does not live with you.
- Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your mask, eyes, nose and mouth.
- Bring extra supplies, such as masks and hand sanitizer.
- When you wear the mask, make sure that it covers your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin.
Remember that people without symptoms may still be infected, and if so, are still able to spread COVID-19. Remember to always social distance. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick. Keep hand sanitizer with you and use it when you are unable to wash your hands. Use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
Try to also avoid live sporting events, Thanksgiving Day parades and Black Friday shopping this year.
Roby represents Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District and will be retiring at the end of the year. Aderholt represents Alabama’s 4th Congressional District and was re-elected to the 117th Congress.
Opinion | Let’s hope for Reed’s success
Reed’s temperament and style appear right for this moment in Alabama’s history.
State Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, will lead the Alabama Senate as president pro tem during the upcoming 2021 legislative session. What changes will Reed bring to the upper chamber, and how will his leadership differ from his predecessor? No one knows for sure.
Reed succeeds Sen. Del Marsh, who has served as president pro tem since Republicans took control of the Statehouse in 2010. Marsh, along with then-Gov. Bob Riley, current felon Mike Hubbard and ousted BCA Chair Billy Canary orchestrated the 2010 takeover that saw the Republican rise to dominance.
Reed, who won his Senate seat the same year, was not a charter member of the Republican ruling class, but he benefited from the power sift.
Mild-mannered and studious with a quiet charm, Reed has steadily ascended the ranks of Senate leadership. His silver hair and calm determination have served him well. Reed is a senatorial figure straight out of Hollywood’s central casting.
In all, Reed is nearly universally liked and respected, which in the near term is a hopeful sign of potential success. But political leadership always comes with a warning: “Friends come and go, enemies accumulate.”
Reed’s relationship with Gov. Kay Ivey is certainly less contentious than Marsh’s and gives rise to the belief that there will be greater cooperation between the executive and the Senate.
With the economy and public health under dire stress due to the ravages of COVID-19, legislative priorities are fixed: get people back to work and eradicate the coronavirus.
However, one of Reed’s first tests will be whether he can cool the smoldering anger of those senators who still feel the sting of Ivey’s rebuke over the allocation of CARES Act funds. He will also need to resist those who want to punish the administration over its use of public health statutes to implement mask mandates and other safety measures to prevent the deadly coronavirus spread.
Despite outward declarations of a unified body, the State Senate is a small, insular and unwieldy beast where egos loom large and consensus on policies is often tricky to achieve except on “red meat issues.”
Building a coalition on policy in the Senate is often a combination of horse-trading, cajoling and carefully applied pressure. The way forward in the near term is exact: pass legislation that spurs economic recovery and mitigates the health crisis at hand.
But Reed will also simultaneously need to recognize what comes next for justice reform, prison construction, gambling and a myriad of other pressing issues. His job will be to understand the prevailing winds, which are evolutionary, not revolutionary.
As author Doris Kearns Goodwin noted in Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream: “For political leaders in a democracy are not revolutionaries or leaders of creative thought. The best of them are those who respond wisely to changes and movements already underway. The worst, the least successful, are those who respond badly or not at all, and those who misunderstand the direction of already visible change.”
Reed’s temperament and style appear right for this moment in Alabama’s history.
As President Abraham Lincoln said, “If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
Let’s all hope that Reed passes the test.
Aderholt introduces broadband-focused EXPAND Act
The COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the critical need for efficient and reliable rural broadband, Aderholt said.
Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, on Tuesday released new rural broadband legislation, the Enabling Extra Time to Extend Network Deployment (EXTEND) Act.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the critical need for efficient and reliable rural broadband. Teleworking, telemedicine, and virtual classrooms have been our reality for the better part of eight months, and it could continue into the new year,” Aderholt said. “Since Congress has passed stimulus funding for Coronavirus relief, I believe states should be allowed to use that money to address this dire need.”
Alabama currently has hundreds of millions of dollars in CARES Act dollars that the federal government sent to the state in March, but there were so many conditions on how the money could be spent that the state has been unable to find acceptable uses for most of those funds and may have to return that money to the federal government unspent early next year. Aderholt’s legislation would free up those dollars for use expanding rural broadband in Alabama.
“That is why I introduced a bill today to do just that, secure the ability for states to expand their rural broadband infrastructure with Coronavirus relief funds,” Aderholt said. “This bill will help those rural areas that have been left behind by providing a pathway for states to determine which areas are particularly underserved, while also preventing overbuilding in areas where broadband access is widespread.”
“I am hopeful that this legislation will set a precedent for future funding bills, ensuring that rural areas have access to funds to build out the broadband infrastructure they need, while also preventing waste and abuse,” Aderholt said. “It’s clear that adequate funding is needed now more than ever, and ensuring states the option to use Congressionally approved stimulus money for this issue is a step in the right direction.”
Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, is the lead co-sponsor on the EXPAND Act.
“When Americans can’t access the Internet, they aren’t able to participate in our 21st century economy, learn remotely, or communicate with others outside of their communities, all of which have become increasingly important during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Latta said. “The EXTEND Act works to support the buildout of broadband infrastructure in areas that do not currently have broadband capabilities. It ensures funds from the CARES Act, which I supported earlier this year, can be granted by states for the deployment of broadband so all Americans, including people living in rural communities, have reliable internet connectivity. I’d like to thank my colleague Rep. Aderholt for his attention to this critical issue, and I am encouraged that with this bill, we are working towards a more connected future.”
Aderholt was recently overwhelmingly elected to his 13th term representing Alabama’s 4th Congressional District.
“I would also like to take a moment to thank you for sending me back to Washington, D.C. to serve as your Representative for Alabama’s 4th Congressional District,” Aderholt said. “It is an incredible honor to serve you in Congress, and it is a responsibility I do not take lightly. And no matter how you voted in this election, I promise to fight for you, and for everyone in our district, in the halls of Congress.”
Governor orders flags lowered in honor of former Rep. Alvin Holmes
Ivey’s directive calls for flags to be lowered on Sunday when Holmes is to be buried.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday ordered the flags at the State Capitol and in State House District 78 to be lowered to half-staff in honor of former State Rep. Alvin Holmes, a tireless advocate for the Black community who served in the House for 44 years.
Holmes, 81, died Saturday. Ivey’s directive calls for flags to be lowered on Sunday when Holmes is to be buried and remain lowered until sunset that day.
“A native of Montgomery, Rep. Holmes served the people of Alabama in the House of Representatives for 44 years,” Ivey wrote in her directive. “As the longest-serving representative in our state’s history, it is only fitting that we pay homage to his decades of dedicated service. Anyone that had the privilege of working with or hearing Rep. Holmes address the legislature, knows that he was passionate about his work and cared deeply about improving our state, specifically in matters regarding civil rights. His unique approach to conveying the importance of causes he supported garnered much respect from his colleagues and is something the people of our state will not soon forget. I offer my sincere condolences and prayers to his family, friends and constituents of his beloved community.”
A caravan honoring Holmes took place in Montgomery on Monday.
State Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, the chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, released a statement mourning Holmes’s passing.
“Representative Alvin Holmes was a great Democrat and a fighter,” England said. “He stood on the frontlines of the fight for civil rights and was willing to sacrifice everything in his fight for justice for all. He not only had a long and distinguished career as a civil rights leader, but also as a member of the Legislature, serving his constituents faithfully and dutifully for 44 years. Alabama has lost a giant, whose wit, intelligence, fearlessness, selfless determination, and leadership will be sorely missed. My prayers are with his friends, family, and colleagues.”