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.