EXCLUSIVE: VA Fired Public Affairs Officer After He Disclosed Attempt To Manipulate Report On Veteran Who Died Waiting For Care

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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The Department of Veterans Affairs allegedly fired one of its public affairs officers in December for disclosing that the White River Junction VA medical center manipulated a document to obscure why a veteran died while waiting for an appointment.

Joseph Anglin, a public affairs officer at the facility, was terminated from his position Dec. 9. His termination comes just a month after informing the inspector general Nov. 7 that the medical center director and his assistant manipulated a document Anglin had written, in order to downplay any possibility of scandal after a veteran died while on an appointment wait list.

Just 10 days after the inspector general had opened an investigation into Anglin’s allegations, he was fired for “Unacceptable Performance,” despite the fact that Anglin’s recent annual review rated him as “Fully Successful” in every category but one. In the “leadership” category, Anglin was rated as “Exceptional.”

“What is unacceptable performance, I do not know,” Anglin told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “I was never given a reason or an explanation.”

Anglin told TheDCNF that he was instructed to write up a report in April, 2016, to send to the VA central office in Washington, D.C., regarding an inspector general report stating that a veteran died while waiting for care at the White River Junction Medical Center.

Facility Director Al Montoya, along with the aid of his Executive Assistant Becky Rhoads, apparently told Anglin that the inspector general did not actually conduct an independent investigation, but rather, accepted the results of an internal investigation at the medical center. “There was no significant delay by the VA that appeared to have an effect on the patient’s death,” the internal report found.

Once Anglin submitted his report, he realized Montoya and Rhoads had altered its contents.

Anglin wrote in his report that there was a possible foul play lurking behind the veteran’s death. But, the new copy read: “There is no basis on which the OIG’s findings would be challenged.”

Though he objected to the modification once he had learned of it, Anglin says Montoya and Rhoads told him that the modification was appropriate because the veterans’ death had nothing to do with the appointment delay.

But then, Anglin says he stumbled upon new evidence that was originally withheld from him about the veteran’s death, namely that not only had the veteran died while waiting for an appointment, but the veteran had been waiting a year for the appointment to be scheduled.

Additionally, the appointment was scheduled only after the veteran died. The appointment was relating to a respiratory disorder. The veteran’s cause of death was related to a respiratory complication.

Anglin discovered that internal investigators never interviewed the social worker who had filed the complaint about the veteran’s death.

Moreover, the data also indicated that six other veterans had died while waiting for appointments during the same time period, an allegation that was not properly investigated by the inspector general.

The matter is now in the hands of the Office of Special Counsel and the Office of Resolution Management, after Anglin reported the manipulated document, as well as reporting the inspector general’s uncritical acceptance of an internal investigation.

“The OIG only accepted the internal VAMC findings. The facts show the internal investigation was conducted by a peer review panel of doctors who only reviewed the medical procedures, and not the administrative processes,” Anglin told TheDCNF. “It’s akin to bringing your car to the repair shop because the engine is smoking, and the body shop manager tells you the paint on your car is just fine. One has nothing to do with the other. So here the VA conducted an internal investigation, but they didn’t investigate the processes that were the source of the complaints. None of the six deaths alleged were investigated and the OIG only accepted the internal finding of the VAMC, which found no ‘wrong-doing,’ because no one looked!”

The Office of Resolution Management is taking Anglin’s complaint seriously and confirmed in March that it’s opening an investigation because his claim “meets the severe or pervasive requirement for further processing.”

“I may get my job back. I may not! If what I did forces a change to the VA system and saves one life, it will be worth it,” Anglin told TheDCNF.

Andrew LaCasse, acting public affairs officer at the White River Junction VA Medical Center, told TheDCNF that the facility takes whistleblower protection seriously.

“The White River Junction VA Medical Center is committed to whistleblower protection and creating an environment in which employees feel free to voice their concerns without fear of reprisal,” LaCasse said. “When issues or concerns are brought to us by veterans, their family, or our stakeholders, they are treated as opportunities for us to critically look at that input, and take every action necessary to improve the work we do.”

“We are aware of the allegations by a former Public Affairs Officer regarding operations at the medical center. However, we are unable to discuss specific personnel matters involving any current or former employees,” LaCasse added.

Anglin brushed off the VA’s response as being “consistent with the systemic cover-ups plaguing the VA’s incompetencies and mismanagement.”

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