The mission statement of the Veterans Affairs (VA) is to fulfill President Lincoln's promise, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan" by serving and honoring the men and women who are America's veterans. The VA provides health care to over 8 million veterans each year. Unfortunately, whistleblowers have recently come forward to speak out against corruption and veteran abuse within the agency.
After a federal investigation, a report indicates officials at the Hines VA were falsifying records of mental health patients to cover-up the problem with long wait times. Now Illinois Senator Mark Kirk is calling for criminal charges to be filed. According to the report from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, since 2010, veterans were waiting months for mental health help, while the records were falsified, with staff asked to “zero out” wait times.
Germaine Clarno and Dr. Lisa Nee have spoken out against how veterans are treated at the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital in Hines, Illinois. Clarno was the first to speak out and reported the corruption and mistreatment to Representative Tammy Duckworth. However, now Duckworth has been criticized for failing to respond to the whistleblowers' complaints. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) also reportedly failed to adequately investigate the allegations.
“The accounts of these courageous whistleblowers detail yet another chapter of Rep. Duckworth silencing critics to protect the bureaucracy, her own legacy, and her party," read a statement from Kirk's office. "As a member of Congress, Rep. Duckworth has a responsibility to care for the most vulnerable, but when it came time for her to protect our veterans from the corruption and mismanagement at the VA, she failed."
In a report by U.S. Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, the OIG's probe into VA abuse allegations was “deficient.” Unfortunately, the reports of misconduct are not limited to this one VA facility. The report has found procedural abnormalities in at least 9 of the 15 facilities they have investigated so far. In some cases, the misconduct was intentional. It is unclear how many veterans were injured as a result of abuse or delayed treatment.
The VA Illiana Healthcare System in Danville, Illinois has had its own share of problems. Japhet Rivera, a former VA hospital director, retaliated against a whistleblower who reported Rivera for not doing his job. Rivera was also reportedly having sex with another VA employee, talking to the employee's daughter about it, then telling her she might have to “live the rest of your life without a mom.” When faced with firing, Rivera appealed the decision. Despite Rivera's misconduct, he was paid a lump sum of $86,000 plus expenses, in return for his resignation.
In another alarming report of the VA's mismanagement, the family of Army veteran Tom Young says he took his own life after being ignored by the VA. Young reportedly asked the VA for help four times but never received a call back until after he stepped in front of a Metra train. “The day after, we got a call from the VA that a bed was available and then about 20 minutes later, we got a call from the suicide hotline returning his call," says Will Young, Tom's brother.
According to his family, Young tried to get help twice from the VA but was turned away because they said he wasn't suicidal. When they determined he was suicidal on the third try, they told him he would be put on a waiting list. Finally, his last attempt to get help was the call to the suicide hotline that was met with a voicemail recording.
If you suspect a family member was injured due to negligence in a VA hospital, was denied treatment or mistreated, you should speak with an experienced attorney who understands Illinois negligence law. If you witness mistreatment at a VA facility and are concerned about what reporting abuse could mean for your career, contact the team of Benassi & Benassi. We are experienced Illinois attorneys who have successfully represented our clients in Peoria and throughout the state, and make sure they get the justice they deserve.