The full text of Rep. Roby’s letter to Secretary McDonald is below:
Dear Secretary McDonald,
Thank you for your recent action to begin a long-needed overhaul of the troubled Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS). Though only the first step in what will certainly be a lengthy process, removing top management from authority sends an important message that continued misconduct and cover-up will no longer be tolerated. I appreciate your stated desire to effect positive change in this regard.
My understanding is that the Director and Chief of Staff have been placed on administrative leave. Unfortunately, I have received reports that would seem to undermine the effect of this decision.
· At least one of the CAVHCS senior managers placed on administrative leave pending an investigation appears to retain full access to his official VA email account and to building facilities. As you know, the reason stated for placing CAVHCS managers on leave in the August 21 press release was to allow for an "assessment of administrative and clinical practices” at CAVHCS and to ensure a "thorough and unbiased process.” It stands to reason that restricting the access of those on leave would be warranted to ensure these stated goals. Furthermore, allowing those in question to retain access to facilities and electronic records would surely compromise any “unbiased” assessment. In any case, the situation raises a serious red flag regarding the integrity of the Department’s investigation into this matter. If the individuals placed on leave pending review may access their offices or email accounts, what is to stop them from disposing of records that may be damaging to their case? Additionally, access to VA resources affords the individuals in question an opportunity to continue to influence decision-making within the facility.
· To my knowledge, the VA has provided very little communication to its employees or to the public about its long-term intent for CAVHCS. In fact, it is widely believed inside the system that the previous administrators may soon be returning to their positions. This, combined with the removed administrators apparent ability to access VA resources, creates a significant chilling effect on those seeking to implement reform on a broken system. I strongly encourage you to state with clarity your vision for the rehabilitation of CAVHCS, provide public support for its acting administrators, and make clear that whistleblowers will be protected from retaliation.
· When Senator Richard Shelby and I wrote on July 29 to alert you to the problems at CAVHCS, we did so in hopes that you and your top advisers at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington would directly oversee changes in Alabama. Though I understand any organization’s need to delegate responsibility, I am concerned about the ability of regional VISN leadership to adequately handle the task. One must seriously question what, if any, actions have been taken to understand the role that employees at VISN-7 have played in this malfeasance. For example, among the most egregious discoveries to surface in our investigation of CAVHCS was the report showing hundreds of patient X-rays – many showing malignancies - went missing over the course of five years. Email records show that it was the VISN-level chief medical officer who attempted to whitewash the X-ray report and cover-up the problem. I am unaware of any disciplinary action ever imposed upon this administrator.
Again, I greatly appreciate your swift action regarding CAVHCS. It is, however, naive to believe that simply removing two individuals from a system troubled by a culture of complacency and cronyism will unto itself improve the quality and accessibility of medical care for my veteran constituents. I must again insist that your national leadership team in Washington – not the regional team in Atlanta – be directly responsible for the overhaul at CAVHCS. And I must strongly recommend that the individuals placed on administrative leave be restricted from accessing government computers and facilities until their status as employees of the Veterans Administration is determined.
Thank you for your continued time and attention to this matter. I look forward to your response to these concerns and I stand ready to assist in any way I can.
Member of Congress
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Two weeks after top administrators were removed from authority at the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS), concerns over how promised reforms are being carried out have prompted U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R-AL) to again urge national VA leadership to intervene.
In a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald, Rep. Roby expressed gratitude for the action taken, but explained three key reasons why reform efforts may be undermined:
· At least one of the senior managers removed and placed on administrative leave appears to have retained access to email and building facilities;
· The involvement of VISN, or regional, VA leadership in covering up the lost X-Ray fiasco calls into question the ability of VISN management to oversee the reform efforts;
· And a lack of communication to employees and the community has contributed to a lingering belief that attention to the myriad problems in Central Alabama will be short-lived.
Rep. Roby writes:
“I greatly appreciate your swift action regarding CAVHCS. It is, however, naive to believe that simply removing two individuals from a system troubled by a culture of complacency and cronyism will unto itself improve the quality and accessibility of medical care for my veteran constituents. I must again insist that your national leadership team in Washington – not the regional team in Atlanta – be directly responsible for the overhaul at CAVHCS. And I must strongly recommend that the individuals placed on administrative leave be restricted from accessing government computers and facilities until their status as employees of the Veterans Administration is determined.”
Rep. Roby has worked over the last several weeks to expose instances of misconduct and cover-up within the troubled Central Alabama VA. Information revealed since then includes:
· At least 900 unread patient X-RAY tests - many showing malignancies - were lost until recently, 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];
· More than 441 staff positions have gone unfilled while only 38 job openings are posted online, [The Montgomery Advertiser];
· The VA pulmonologist found to have manipulated more than 1,200 patient records was caught doing it again, and yet, went on to receive a “satisfactory performance” review, [The Montgomery Advertiser];
· Email records show the Central Alabama VA director was alerted to concerns over patient scheduling discrepancies more than eight months before taking action, [The Montgomery Advertiser];
· More than 57 percent of staff surveyed at Montgomery-based CAVHCS said they received “instruction” from the facility to manipulate patient wait times, according to an “Access Audit” conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), [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. Yet, despite being caught and found guilty of the violations, the worker was still employed at CAVHCS more than a year after the incident, [The Montgomery Advertiser].