Two whistle-blowers at a Louisiana Veterans Affairs hospital say they found widespread corruption and were subjected to uncomfortable retaliation when they brought their concerns forward.
Crystal LeJeune and Harvey Norris are whistle-blowers and former employees of the Alexandria, Louisiana VA Medical Center system.
Each worked at a clinic in Jennings, Louisiana — which was part of the Alexandria VA Health Care system; both are speaking out exclusively for the first time to The Daily Caller.
Both say that not only did they find widespread waste, fraud, and abuse — primarily in the Home Based Primary Care (HBPC) department — but experienced retaliation for speaking out.
LeJeune said in an Office of Special Counsel (OSC) complaint that she has witnessed “patient neglect, falsification of Veterans’ medical records, fraudulent billing, misuse of government vehicles, tampering with government vehicle tracking systems, and deceitful time documentation” at the hospital.
As part of her duties, LeJeune said she regularly examined the Veterans Equitable Resource Allocation (VERA) Report.
By examining the report, LeJeune found all sorts of waste.
“When I would go into the system, it proved they (HBPC employees) weren’t actually seeing patients,” LeJeune stated.
As one example, she noted that one HBPC nurse visited 11 patients in one morning, something which LeJeune said was impossible for a nurse making house calls.
“They were supposed to be seeing the patients every thirty days,” LeJeune said, “but that wasn’t happening. There was (one) who hadn’t been seen for more than one hundred thirty days, but there was numerous ones (patients) who hadn’t been seen on a regular basis.”
A group of HBPC employees also appeared to be using the cars for outside work.
“The car log wasn’t matching the GPS.”
In those instances, the car log would show little or no activity while the GPS showed the car making stops at several homes at addresses without a VA patient.
LeJeune said her problems first started in July 2012 when, as the program support assistant in HBPC, she was ordered to log in all the miles which HBPC employees used with government vehicles.
As part of her duties, she was to receive all HBC’s employees’ calendars and patient schedules, but that never happened.
Instead, she came back from a vacation in September 2012, and five minutes after arriving back at the hospital, LeJeune said she was told she was under investigation and moved to another assignment temporarily while the investigation was ongoing.
She was eventually cleared but this began years of harassment, LeJeune said.
LeJeune’s most aggressive harasser was Tabitha Nicholas, a HBPC dietician.
“Tabitha was taking notes as to my comings and goings since I first started at HBPC. Every time I left the office, she went to the front door/window to make sure I was gone (I actually saw her). She reported my every move to my supervisor at the time,” LeJeune stated during the 2012 inquiry into the hostile work environment.
“I am requesting a desk change, to somewhere that I have privacy. This atmosphere is getting more intimidating and the stress is taking its toll on me. I am having to take leave on a regular basis, because of this stress and that is not fair,” LeJeune wrote to another supervisor in 2016.
“I understand I have to do my job but Tabitha Nicholas, what purpose does she have doing here at the clinic,” LeJeune stated in an April 2017 email to a colleague. “Again, face to face with me today.”
LeJeune said she became so paranoid of what Nicholas might do that she moved from her office which could not be locked to an adjoining office which she locked.
Curt Cashour is the press secretary for the Department of Veteran Affairs, and he dismissed LeJeune’s allegations, saying she “did not provide any information that supports [her] assertion [of] any threatening conduct directed toward [her],” Cashour stated. “There was insufficient information to conclude with a substantial likelihood that the actions of HBPC employees amounted to wrongdoing.”
Besides providing several hundred pages of documents which detailed the harassment to The Daily Caller, LeJeune said her complaints were eventually investigated by the VA’s Office of Resolution Management which produced a near 700-page report.
As part of the retaliation, LeJeune said she’s been followed, stalked, had her photo taken by an employee, false allegations were made, and had her religion demeaned in a staff meeting.
“In 2011 & 2012, I was asked by Tabitha what religion I was. Because of her actions that followed this conversation and her discussion of me in an email, she obviously did not agree with my religious beliefs,” LeJeune noted in a 2017 report. “There is an email between supervisors where Tabitha Nicholas questioned my Christianity and stated I needed to find God, in a meeting that I was not present.”
In 2016, several photos were taken — purportedly of her desk with sensitive patient information unattended — and then shared with the privacy officer to start another investigation.
The allegations were determined to be false; the photos had a laptop on the desk and Lejeune doesn’t own a laptop.
“They were cropped,” LeJeune said.
On February 1, 2017, she says she was followed to a restaurant by Nicholas, who took photos of LeJeune, Norris and another hospital employee having lunch.
The meeting was quickly reported to hospital management, triggering another investigation.
LeJeune said she took medical leave after her photo was taken and she has been told nothing about the investigation.
LeJeune was granted medical retirement in June 2018.
Norris started in the HBPC in November 2016 on what was supposed to be a temporary assignment.
He quickly found rampant corruption.
“What happened was that I found all sorts of problems: the overbilling, misuse of government, and filing false documentation.”
He said that he discovered that the nurse practitioners had formed their own corporation and were funneling patients illegally to their company.
Norris said that he submitted his complaint to the VA Office of Inspector General’s Office (VAOIG).
Cashour dismissed Norris’ claims as well: “VA has asked Mr. Norris several times for evidence backing up his complaint. To date, Mr. Norris has not provided anything that backs up any of his claims. VA stands ready to look into this right away should Mr. Norris provide evidence and/or documentation backing up his claims.
“Additionally, the Office of Special Counsel found that it could not establish that Mr. Norris made a protected disclosure and/or engaged in a protected activity within OSC’s jurisdiction.”
But Norris said Cashour was trying sleight of hand, because his main complaint went to the VA OIG, not to OSC.
“It will take me a month to go through all of the information you provided. I really appreciate you referring this case to us,” Norris’ caseworker at the VAOIG noted in a February 2017 complaint upon receiving it.
He made a complaint to OSC for whistle-blower retaliation, and while it was technically dismissed, Norris noted, this was only because OSC did not want to conduct an investigation while the VAOIG investigation was still ongoing.
“The VA OIG reviewed the matter and referred it to the VA for appropriate action,” Michael Nacincik, public affairs for the VAOIG, stated of the information Norris brought them.
On February 1, 2017, Norris was having dinner at a truck stop in Jennings with LeJeune and another Jennings VA employee when he noticed Tabitha Nicholas and another Jennings VA employee.
They drove to the truck stop, got out, and started taking photos, Norris noted; he said he was informed he was being investigated the following morning for misuse of a government vehicle.
Norris explained the use of the vehicle, saying that he drove to St. Martinville to do a presentation to St. Martin Parish Sheriffs in late January 2017. After the presentation, he met with a veteran at a Waffle House a few miles from the presentation. The veteran’s son was suicidal, and Norris convinced the suicidal veteran to visit his hospital immediately.
Norris said he went to see the doctor who would be handling the case in the Jennings VA, and the VA filed a complaint because his original itinerary had called for him to go to a hospital in Alexandria from the conference.
Norris managed the suicide crisis hotline when this investigation was started, but during the investigation he was not allowed to talk to veterans, respond to crisis line calls or to call people back. If a nurse or a doctor called him about a suicidal veteran in the hospital, he had no choice but to tell them to call the police.
It ended with a demotion and a two-week suspension. He was able to get another job, and, on the day he resigned, he received another write-up.
“OSC also found that VA had clear and convincing evidence supporting Mr. Norris’ discipline and closed Mr. Norris’ file,” Cashour noted. But Norris said OSC made no such determination, closing out the file because the VAOIG was still investigating.
The OSC did not respond to an email for comment.
Norris said he’s much happier since switching jobs.