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The Stories of Four VA Whistleblowers Who Exposed Lapsed Patient Care

Office of Special Counsel has won 25 corrective actions since last April’s scandal.

The Office of Special Counsel on Tuesday distributed four new profiles of Veterans Affairs Department employees who experienced retaliation for reporting botched medical care.

The detailed workplace stories of Mark Tello, Richard Hill, Rachael Hogan and Coleen Elmers are among more than 25 cases for which the governmentwide ombudsman’s office has obtained corrective actions since last spring’s scandal over falsified scheduling records at some VA hospitals that placed veterans at risk.

“OSC will continue to work with the VA to obtain relief for VA whistleblowers with meritorious reprisal claims,” Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner said in a statement. “We appreciate the VA leadership’s cooperation with OSC in assisting many VA whistleblowers.”

The newly detailed cases were:

Mark Tello, a nursing assistant with the VA Medical Center in Saginaw, Mich., who in August 2013 told his supervisor that management was not properly staffing the VAMC and that this could result in serious patient care lapses. The VAMC then issued a proposed removal, which was later reduced to a five-day suspension that Tello served in January 2014. The VA again proposed his removal in June 2014. OSC facilitated a settlement where the VA agreed, among other things, to place Tello in a new position at VA under different management, to rescind his suspension, and to award him appropriate back pay.

Richard Hill, a primary care physician at the Fort Detrick Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Frederick, Md. In March 2014, he made disclosures to VA officials, the VA Office of Inspector General, and others regarding an improper diversion of funds that resulted in harm to patients. Specifically, Dr. Hill expressed serious concerns about the lack of clerical staff assigned to his primary care unit, which he believes led to significant errors in patient care and scheduling problems. In early May 2014, the VA issued Hill a reprimand. He retired in July 2014. As part of the settlement agreement between Dr. Hill and the VA, the department has agreed to, among other provisions, expunge Dr. Hill’s record of any negative personnel actions.

Rachael Hogan, a registered nurse with the VAMC in Syracuse, N.Y., disclosed to a superior a patient’s rape accusation against a VA employee. When the superior delayed reporting the accusations to the police, Hogan warned the superior about the risks of not reporting the accusations in a timely manner. Later, she complained that a nurse fell asleep twice while assigned to watch a suicidal patient and that another superior engaged in sexual harassment. In April 2014, those two superiors informed Hogan that they were considering seeking a review board to have her terminated because of her “lack of collegiality” and that she was not a good fit for the unit. After this meeting, Hogan disclosed a number of allegations to her compliance officer involving the two superiors. In May, the superiors informed Hogan that the review board would go forward and gave her an unsatisfactory proficiency report. VA agreed to stay the review board for the duration of the investigation. The department agreed to place Hogan in a new position at the Syracuse VAMC under different supervision and a revise her performance rating. The Syracuse VAMC will also pay for an OSC representative to conduct whistleblower protection training for managers at the facility, including the two referenced in Hogan’s case.

Coleen Elmers, a nurse manager at the VAMC in Spokane, Wash., who in July 2014 filed a complaint with the VA Office of Inspector General about a fraudulently altered performance evaluation of one of her subordinates, which Elmers previously refused to change.  In October 2014, the supervisor rated Elmers’ performance as unsatisfactory, charging her with a lack of candor, failure to follow instructions, and inappropriate behavior for a management official. The supervisor proposed Elmers’ termination. In December, the Merit Systems Protection Board granted OSC’s request to stay the termination while OSC investigates.

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