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Senator Wants Names of VA Officials Who 'Retaliated Against Dead Man'

  • Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., left, talks with (from second from left) Dr. Brandon Coleman, Joseph Colon and Shea Wilkes on Capitol Hill on Sept. 22, 2015. Jacquelyn Martin/AP
    Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., left, talks with (from second from left) Dr. Brandon Coleman, Joseph Colon and Shea Wilkes on Capitol Hill on Sept. 22, 2015. Jacquelyn Martin/AP
  • Veterans Affairs Deputy Inspector General Linda Halliday listens at left as Sean Kirkpatrick testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 22, 2015, before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing. Jacquelyn Martin/AP
    Veterans Affairs Deputy Inspector General Linda Halliday listens at left as Sean Kirkpatrick testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 22, 2015, before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing. Jacquelyn Martin/AP
  • Shea Wilkes, a licensed clinical social worker at the Overton Brooks VA Medical Center, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 22, 2015, before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Jacquelyn Martin/AP
    Shea Wilkes, a licensed clinical social worker at the Overton Brooks VA Medical Center, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 22, 2015, before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is demanding to know who at the Veterans Affairs Department's Inspector General's office put together a report that was allegedly more bent on destroying the reputation of a dead whistleblower than looking into the claims he had made.

Rep. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, raised the "white paper" report during a hearing Tuesday attended by VA whistleblowers as well as the acting head of the IG's office.

The report, released in July, called attention to the fact that marijuana was found in the apartment of Dr. Christopher Kirkpatrick, a psychologist at the VA Medical Center in Tomah, Wisconsin, who committed suicide on the day he was fired.

At the time, Kirkpatrick was a whistleblower trying to focus attention on over-medication of veterans being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

The IG's white paper, Johnson said, recommended that officials look into whether Kirkpatrick was a drug dealer, noting that there was marijuana in his apartment and a scale.

"So instead of helping a whistleblower, it sounds like reprisal against a dead person to me," Johnson said Tuesday. "I can only conclude from this white paper ... that [the VA] could care less."

Johnson told Acting Inspector General Linda Halliday that he wanted the names of everyone who had a role in writing up the report.

Halliday, who has been in the top IG job only since July, said she had no part in it and did not know who did. She told Johnson she would get the names for him.

Among those testifying before the Senate committee on Tuesday was Kirkpatrick's brother, Sean, who told the panel that his family wanted the VA to provide him with all medical records and any other VA officials' notes and papers relating to his brother.

The VA hospital in Tomah came to be known as "Candy Land" because of the amount of medications being prescribed to patients.

The VA is conducting a pair of investigations into over-medication and the overdose death of a veteran at the facility. According to a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting, the number of opiates prescribed at the Tomah facility more than quintupled since 2005 even though the number of veterans getting care at the hospital has declined.

Other witnesses testifying before Johnson's committee on Tuesday were Joseph Colon, credentialing program support with the VA Caribbean Healthcare System in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Shea Wilkes, a licensed clinical social worker with the VA Medical Center in Shreveport, Louisiana; and Brandon Coleman, an addiction specialist with the VA Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona -- ground zero for the scandal involving manipulation of patient wait times and delays that contributed to the deaths of veterans.

All the witnesses testified that higher-ups at their medical facilities retaliated against them for whistleblowing.

Coleman said he routinely takes calls from VA whistleblowers across the country, and that "100 percent" of those he has spoken with report retaliation by superiors.

Colon said he was disciplined and threatened with firing after complaining to hospital officials about patient care, and letting higher-ups in  Washington, D.C., know that the facility's director was arrested for drug possession and drunk driving.

In testimony on Tuesday, Colon ran down a long list of complaints made by employees at VA facilities in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, including a veteran dying during a procedure allegedly conducted solely because the doctor's wife needed the experience for her residency program.

Wilkes told lawmakers of cronyism in hiring at the Shreveport VA, an attempt to quell his complaints with a promotion bribe, and finally threats to destroy his career by claiming his treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder following a tour of duty in Afghanistan indicated he was unstable.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com.

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