Congresswoman Martha Roby

Representing the 2nd District of Alabama

Roby: Crack House, Missing X-Rays Illustrate CAVHCS is “Poster Child” for VA Reform

June 13, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The terrible history of negligence, abuse, and even criminal activity within the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS) make it the “poster child” for the need to overhaul accountability standards within the Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R-Ala.) said today.

In a speech from the House floor, Roby urged her colleagues to give final passage to S. 1094, the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which is scheduled for a vote later today. The bill would greatly increase accountability for rank-and-file VA employees and grant enhanced protections for whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing. Roby said the story of the Central Alabama VA illustrates why the reform law is needed.

“Today we have an opportunity to send to the President’s desk legislation bringing unprecedented accountability to the VA and badly-needed protections for whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing,” Roby said. “Mr. Speaker, as someone who worked with whistleblowers to shed light on negligence, abuse, and even criminal activity within the Central Alabama VA, I can tell you this reform legislation is long overdue.”

Roby said the problems exposed in Central Alabama were “every bit as bad” as the Phoenix, Arizona VA that became the epitome of the accountability problem nationwide.

“More than 900 X-Ray cancer screenings – some showing malignancies – were lost and unread for years. When alerted to the problem, top administrators tried to cover it up. A VA pulmonologist manipulated more than 1200 patient records, but even after being caught twice, was still given a satisfactory review.  And perhaps the most disturbing: A Central Alabama VA employee took a recovering veteran to a crack house, bought him drugs and provided him prostitutes in order to extort his VA payments. And even when caught, this employee was not fired – not until a year and a half later when we exposed it in the newspaper.”

If passed by the House today, S. 1094 will go to the President’s desk.

The full text of Rep. Roby’s remarks as prepared is below.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Today we have an opportunity to send to the President’s desk legislation bringing unprecedented accountability to the VA and badly-needed protections for whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing.

Mr. Speaker, as someone who worked with whistleblowers to shed light on negligence, abuse, and even criminal activity within the Central Alabama VA, I can tell you this reform legislation is long overdue.

When it comes to the VA scandal that erupted a few years ago, most Americans probably remember Phoenix, Arizona and the horrendous activity that came to light there. Phoenix became the epitome of a nationwide VA accountability problem, and rightly so.

However, in many ways the Central Alabama VA could be also considered the true poster child for the need to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs from top to bottom. It might not have garnered as many headlines as Phoenix, but the nature and extent of the abuse inside the Central Alabama VA was every bit as bad, if not worse.

My staff and I worked with courageous whistleblowers and dedicated journalists to pull back the curtain there. Here are a just a handful of examples of what we found:

More than 900 X-Ray cancer screenings – some showing malignancies – were lost and unread for years. When alerted to the problem, top administrators tried to cover it up.

A VA pulmonologist manipulated more than 1200 patient records, but even after being caught twice, was still given a satisfactory review.

And perhaps the most disturbing: A Central Alabama VA employee took a recovering veteran to a crack house, bought him drugs and provided him prostitutes in order to extort his VA payments. And even when caught, this employee was not fired – not until a year and a half later when we exposed it in the newspaper.

The Crack House incident stands out in my mind for many reasons. First, it still haunts me to my core just how callous and uncaring a person would have to be to do such a thing to a veteran patient. 

Second, it illustrates just how complacent the bureaucracy had become to let that behavior slide. And third, it is chilling to think we never would have known this happened if not for a brave VA employee who walked into my office in Montgomery, Alabama and handed us the police report.

Thankfully, under the 2014 reform law, the Director of the Central Alabama VA was fired. That law took an important step towards speeding up the termination process for top officials. But did you know that he remains the only official fired as a result of the VA scandal?

Mr. Speaker, we all know that law did not go far enough. Senior managers aren’t the only ones responsible for failures at the VA. There has been a culture of complacency up and down the chain of command for a long time, and the complicated process for disciplining or removing problem employees only makes it worse.

That law also did not go far enough to protect whistleblowers. There is no question in my mind that without the courage of those who came forward to tell me the truth, very little would have changed at the Central Alabama VA, if anything at all.

Yet those whistleblowers were the targets of retaliation from supervisors and senior managers.

Mr. Speaker, today we have an opportunity to take that next step on behalf of our veterans and those who are working to serve them.

S. 1094, the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act grants the VA Secretary the power to fire, demote, or suspend ANY VA employee no matter their rank.

The bill also increases protections for whistleblowers who put themselves at risk to improve the lives and care of veterans.

Let me say – most VA employees care a great deal about veterans and work very hard to provide the best service. It’s not fair for the hardworking employees of the VA that a few bad actors get to evade punishment.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David Shulkin has said he wants greater authority to remove bad employees as he sees fit. It’s time for Congress to give him that authority and let him know we expect him to use it.

I urge my colleagues to do right by our veterans, pass this legislation today, and send it to the President’s desk.

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