Support the VA, Support Your Local Crack House

VA seal and wheelchair

Support the VA, Support Your Local Crack House
| published August 19, 2014 |

By Earl Perkins
Thursday Review editor

Lt. General Charles Cornwallis directed the British band to play the World Turned Upside Down as his troops surrendered to the American army at Yorktown in 1781. He may have lost the colonies to a ragtag band of rebels, but he'd probably be chortling today if he read the Montgomery Advertiser.

American taxpayers could certainly think of a catchier tune, but this country is headed to hell in a hand-basket if an August 18 story is any indication of our future.

Here’s the short version: a Veterans Administration employee apparently took a recovering veteran patient to a crack house, bought him illegal drugs, extorted VA payments for vehicles and services from a prostitute, and then—most remarkably—fraudulently claimed overtime pay for those “activities.” They may not have erected monuments in his honor, but he's still on the government payroll more than a year later.

These revelations have incensed U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R-Alabama), as she continues responding to reports of rampant abuse, misconduct and failure to discipline problem employees at the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS).

According to an internal investigative report, the man was caught and found guilty of the violations, yet is still employed at CAVHCS. Rep. Roby has battled for several weeks to expose misconduct at area VA facilities, hopefully forcing the agency to enhance accountability and improve veterans’ access to health care.

“Simply put, this is more evidence of the woeful absence of accountability at the Central Alabama VA,” Roby said. “Reading this report, you have to ask, ‘what does it take to get fired at the Central Alabama VA?’”

“The more we discover,” she added, “the more clear the severity of the accountability problem at CAVHCS becomes. Congress has given Secretary (Robert) McDonald unprecedented authority to make the changes necessary to clean up the mess. If he is looking for an opportunity to use his new authority to achieve reform, the Central Alabama VA would be a great place to start.”

Roby says that rampant abuse of an arm of the federal government and mismanaging billions of taxpayer dollars should not be condoned nor encouraged. A VA police officer confirmed facts surrounding the accusations, which were brought to light during a May 2013 official investigative report. The employee was found guilty of patient abuse, misuse of government vehicles, filing false overtime requests and multiple ethics violations.

He is still listed in the CAVHCS employee directory and has not retired, transferred or left the hospital, according to records dating back to Oct. 1, 2013. The employee in question worked as a peer support specialist in the drug addiction treatment program at the Tuskegee campus, but was also a former patient in the program. Records were unavailable stating whether or not administrative or criminal action was taken against the employee.

The VA employee evidently brought a patient who was in the program to the home of a known drug dealer in Tuskegee, leaving him there overnight in March 2013. He "interfered with the medical treatment plan" of the patient, further "endorsed" the patient's drug addictions and exposed him to a "dangerous environment," according to the report.

The first known incident occurred March 1, when the employee took two patients on official business to Montgomery for the purpose of paying bills. He spent the remainder of the day shopping for a new personal vehicle at Montgomery car dealerships, while using a government car. The employee received $225 in overtime pay for working that day, and was found guilty of billing for fraudulent overtime and illegal use of government resources for personal benefit.

And, the story continues to get richer as the second alleged incident happened March 4. The VA employee took the same two patients, who were roommates, out again to a bank and to a collision center for one of the patients to make a payment. Following the properly authorized activities, the man again conducted more personal business associated with purchasing a new vehicle for himself.

During the trip, the employee told one of the patients (Patient A) he could get him "hooked up" before they returned to Tuskegee and make sure he didn't get drug tested, according to a statement from the other patient in the car.

It's a dirty job, but evidently somebody has to do it. The following day, Patient A told his roommate that the employee was driving him to Church's Chicken and they'd be back. However, Patient A never returned from the trip to pick up fried chicken, according to the statement. The report said the employee brought Patient A to a known crack house in Tuskegee, where he received oral sex from a prostitute and purchased illegal drugs with the employee. The patient also "owed" the drug dealer $200 more for the night.

The employee then "borrowed" a $600 VA check from Patient A, according to the report. Tuskegee police officers confirmed the house where the pair went was known to law enforcement and drug task force members as a place where prostitutes and drug dealers did business. Patient A somehow found his way back to the Tuskegee campus the next day, where the VA discharged him from the program following a positive drug test.

I bet you didn't see that one coming, did you?

The man was also quite anxious to catch up with the employee, needing money from his check so he could find a place to stay. The employee told him he didn't have the money, but that Patient A could temporarily stay at the drug dealer's home, where he'd stayed the previous night, the report stated.

On April 1, the employee asked Patient C if he might borrow $250 by the following Monday. The patient told him no, and reported the incident to VA police. At this point in the story the Veterans Administration decided to investigate the incidents.

Here are the sordid details from in the form of a timeline compiled by the Montgomery Advertiser.

• March 1, 2013: Employee gets permission to take patients out to run errands, but ends up using the government vehicle to conduct personal business. He put in overtime for that day.

• March 4, 2013: Employee has permission to take employees out again to run errands, but ends up doing more personal errands. The employee also tells one patient he could "hook him up" with drugs.

• March 5, 2013: One patient leaves with the employee, and the employee takes him to a crack house where he helps him buy illegal drugs and borrows $600 from the patient. The patient stays at the home overnight.

• March 7, 2013: Patient comes back to the VA seeking the $600 from the employee. The patient is discharged from the program.

• April 1, 2013: The employee asks another patient to borrow $250.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Truth & Lies at the VA, Part Two; Earl Perkins; Thursday Review; July 27, 2014.

The VA's Problems Won't Go Away Quickly; Earl Perkins; Thursday Review; July 24, 2014.