Whistle-Blower: ‘The VA System Is A Perfect Example Of Cronyism’

Michael Volpe Contributor
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Bad hiring practices have led to a culture of cronyism that is as at the center of a burgeoning number of scandals at the Overton-Brooks Veteran Administration (VA) Medical Center in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Shea Wilkes, who blew the whistle on the secret waiting list in the mental health department, told The Daily Caller that he also filed a complaint about bad hiring practices alongside the waiting-list complaint.

Wilkes said a full audit of the hiring practices in the mental health department occurred after it was discovered that many candidates didn’t even have their files scored during the interview process.

Wilkes served as one of four individuals on the hiring committee for the current chief of staff of the Mental Health Department at Overton-Brooks, where he charges he saw cronyism first hand: Though three of the four people on the committee scored Dr. Charles Patterson poorly, Patterson was hired when hospital Chief of Staff Patrick McGauly overrode his three colleagues.

According to Jessica Jacobsen, a media relations specialist with the VA, there was nothing untoward with the hiring process.

“All applicants are ranked by Human Resources, with only the top qualified applicants forwarded to the Services (in this case Mental Health) for interview and potential selection. Dr. Patterson was one applicant forwarded to Mental Health for consideration of hire for the Mental Health Chief.”

“All candidates,” Jacobsen added, “sent forth from Human Resources ranked by raters in a panel within and outside the Mental Health service.”

“The highest scoring candidates were personally interviewed. The ratings and recommendations were then provided to then-Chief of Staff, Dr. Sara Battar, who made the final selection for the service chief of Mental Health.”

“The interviews were not even close!,” Wilkes fired back. “All three members of the panel from Mental Health explained that Dr. Patterson was not the best choice to Dr. McGauly.”

Patterson has emerged as a central figure in the scandal involving secret waiting lists in the mental health department, with Patterson calling the allegations “propaganda” in several leaked emails.

Patterson and McGauly previous worked together at the Louisiana State University Hospital in Shreveport.

“The VA system is a perfect example of cronyism,” Wilkes said of the role bad hiring practices play in the VA culture. “Cronyism has become so enmeshed into the culture that the majority of employees accept it as normal and OK. In my opinion it plays a significant role in the problems the VA system has found itself in today.”

“Instead of promoting or selecting the best qualified persons, often middle managers and upper managers that comprise the ‘good ole boyz’ of a Service, Hospital, and/or VISN [Veterans Integrated Service Network] control pick a friend and/or employee that has no problem continuing any of the unethical practices going on (i.e. scheduling practices, fraud ,abuse, etc.).”

Wilkes said a full audit of the hiring practices in the mental health department occurred after it was discovered that many candidates didn’t even have their files scored during the interview process.

More recently, the hiring of Reba Glidewell as the assistant chief of the Mental Health Department came under scrutiny after it was discovered the required background for the position was changed between the time the job was posted and the time of the interview process.

The final scoring sheet included four new factors not initially listed in the job posting: supervisor experience, research experience, publications, and teaching experience — and on Glidewell’s resume, after listing her previous employment, Glidewell had separate categories for supervisory, research, publications, and teaching experience.

Wilkes said that McGauley himself was hired first as deputy chief of staff at the hospital in May 2013, and then chief of staff in May 2014 — even though he’d only previously held the position of head of the Emergency Room at Louisiana State University.

Jacobsen told TheDC that McGauley was fully qualified, largely quoting his biography from the Overton-Brooks website.

Louisiana Sen. David Vitter told TheDC that this culture is a microcosm of a lack of accountability throughout the VA.

“The whole VA system — including Overton Brooks — has been in the middle of a crisis, and in dire need of increased accountability so they can improve their services for the brave men and women who served our nation,” said Vitter, who last visited the facility Aug. 12.

In June, The Daily Caller featured a story about a Veteran Benefits Administration office in Jackson, Mississippi will similar allegations of bad hiring practices.

A February 2014 VA OIG report on a VBA facility in Nashville, Tennessee also found evidence of bad hiring practices perpetrated by its former head, Jonah Czerwinski.