4 years ago

EXCLUSIVE: Whistleblower says Ala. VA director lied, did not fire employees who falsified records

Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System
Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System

John Morykwas, a former employee of the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS), told Yellowhammer News Tuesday night that CAVHCS director James Talton has been untruthful about firing employees who falsified records to cover up long wait times at the VA.

“It was wishful thinking that VA Employees were fired, but that is a lie,” Morykwas said.

Morykwas, a Board certified medical laboratory professional, said the truth is that several employees involved in the scandal were demoted, but not fired.

Yellowhammer spoke with a source at the VA, who asked to speak on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press, who confirmed that the employees involved in the scandal are indeed still employed at the facility.

That is a far cry from what Director Talton appears to have told Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL02), who noted in a press release over the weekend that “Talton said that when he discovered the suspicious discrepancies within his system, he alerted the Inspector General and then terminated employees responsible.”

Morykwas further claimed to Yellowhammer that the VA employees who brought the scandal to light were actually the ones who got fired.

“The only individuals who were fired were the whistleblowers, and I was one,” Morykwas said. “I was fired for ‘Disrespectful conduct, and Violating the Chain of Command’ for refusing to falsify medical records, and sending an email as to why I refused.”

A request for comment from the CAVHCS was not immediately returned.

(UPDATE 9:22 a.m.) But Rep. Roby confirmed Wednesday morning that the offending employees are still on staff at the VA, and that she feels like director Talton was not truthful with her in describing the actions he took. Roby unloaded on Talton in statement released by her office.

Last week, in a meeting he requested, Director Talton made it clear to me and my District Director that those responsible for falsifying wait list records in Central Alabama were no longer working at the VA, due in part to action he took to remove them.

I have now learned that wasn’t true. No one has been fired. That means the employees responsible for falsifying wait list records are still working at the VA in Alabama.

Director Talton apologized for what he called a ‘misunderstanding’ over him repeatedly saying employees had been ‘relieved of their duties.’ However, the unmistakable tenor of Friday’s conversation and his failure to correct the record after three days of saturating news coverage tell me this wasn’t a misunderstanding at all. I believe I was misled.

If a Member of Congress can’t get a straight answer from the VA, just think what our veterans go through on a daily basis.

This kind of cover-your-own-back mentality is precisely the problem at the VA. Remember that the issue at hand is the falsification of records to hide poor performance. For Director Talton to give the false impression that appropriate action had been taken when it actually had not is emblematic of the backward priorities within the VA bureaucracy.

This breach of trust has caused my office to dig even deeper into what is really going on in Montgomery. I believe there is more to this story.

In a previous release, Roby said that employees involved in the scandal “should be immediately terminated and possibly prosecuted.”

A federal audit released Monday included Alabama among 84 VA facilities nationwide cited for unethical practices.

According to Department of Veterans Affairs data obtained by USA Today through a Freedom of Information Act request, the central Alabama system had the eighth longest average wait time of the entire VA system. Veterans had to wait an average of 51.5 days for an appointment at VA hospitals in Montgomery. The national average was 27.4.

Morykwas said that he believes that recent scandals at the VA are just a quick peek into an entire system that is overrun by corruption.

“The system of treatment of veterans at VA hospitals is too large and too corrupt and should be eliminated,” he said. “Veterans deserve better medical care than what they are receiving.”

Yellowhammer will continue to provide updates as this story develops.


Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims
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6 hours ago

#FakeRacism — Alabama cops were justified in Waffle House arrest

They’re out here saying those white cops who arrested that black lady last weekend at the Waffle House in Saraland, Alabama were racists.

Reality Check: When a cop places you under arrest and you do anything other than passively comply, you may wish for him to say, “Oh, you don’t want to be arrested? My bad. I’ll just leave now.” But here’s what will actually happen, every time, and like Michael Jackson sang, “it don’t matter if you’re black or white.”

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“Outrage growing over black woman’s arrest … by white police officers,” read the headline on AL.com, followed by an article reporting that local protestors were then “confronted by white police officers and one black man was handcuffed.”

Are y’all as sick of these #FakeRacism stories as I am?

That ugly scene could have been avoided if that lady had followed the advice my father gave me years ago.

“Don’t argue with the cops, son,” he told me. “Whether you’re wrong or right, the police deal with criminals all day long and don’t need any lip from some kid.”

“So if they ever say ‘Get out of here,’ or ‘Sit on that curb and shut up,’ then do it without a word of backtalk,” he warned. “Or they might crack you upside the head with that baton they carry or you’ll spend the night in jail.”

A version of that advice called “The Talk” is given in the black community because of their experience with the law enforcement, especially in decades past.

I personally believe those days of systemic racism are gone, but the advice should remain — obey the law.

Or you might end up looking like a fool on Youtube for being arrested at a Waffle House … and it don’t matter if you’re black or white.

@jpepperbryars is the editor of Yellowhammer News and the author of American Warfighter

7 hours ago

Alabama judge tosses charge accusing ex-warden of leaking to blogger

An Alabama judge is dismissing criminal charges accusing a former jail warden of illegally leaking information to a blogger critical of a sheriff.

The Decatur Daily reports that a judge dismissed the charge of computer tampering at the request of former Morgan County jail warden Leon Bradley after several days of testimony.

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Bradley was fired in October by Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin. His lawyers claimed Franklin and three employees lied to get warrants and have Bradley arrested.

The blogger’s grandson testifies that Franklin threatened to arrest him and derail his plans to join the Army if he told anyone about being a confidential informant or didn’t provide information harming his grandmother.

Two law enforcement officers testify Franklin asked them to issue search warrants they believed unjustified.

Franklin denies wrongdoing.

(Copyright Associated Press 2018)

8 hours ago

Steve Marshall and Troy King most well-known, well-liked Republican candidates for Alabama attorney general, according to poll

New polling obtained by Yellowhammer News offers a peek into Alabama’s attorney general race, with the edges in the Republican primary bid at-the-moment being given to current Attorney General Steve Marshall and former Attorney General Troy King.

The poll, conducted by WPA Intelligence, found that 24 percent of Republican primary voters have a favorable view of Marshall and 26 percent have a favorable view of King, while 5 percent have an unfavorable view of Marshall and 15 percent have an unfavorable view of King.

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The other two Republicans running, former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin and Judge Chess Bedsole, have 13 and 8 percent favorability, respectively.

King has the highest name identification at 61 percent, with Marshall’s at 43 percent. Martin’s name identification is at 32 percent and Bedsole’s at 28 percent.

(WPA Intelligence)

Survey Methodology: WPA selected a random sample (n=500 Republican primary voters) of registered voters from the Alabama voter file using Proportionate Probability Sampling (PPS) who were contacted by phone April 15-17, 2018. The sample was stratified based on geography, age, and gender, and the study has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent in 95 out of 100 cases.

The primary election is on June 5, and the state-wide general election is November 6.

Rep. Byrne: A tax code that works

Each April, Americans across the country face great frustration and inconvenience in filing their taxes.

Fortunately, this Tax Day marked the last time Americans would file their taxes under the old tax code. Thanks to passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Americans will now have a simpler and fairer tax code. I was proud to work with President Trump to reform our tax code and make the process easier for taxpayers.

Starting next year, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will bring Americans relief when filing their taxes under a more streamlined, straightforward tax code. However, making the overall filing process simpler and more convenient was just one of the many ways we worked to create a tax code that benefits and works for the American people.

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One of the most important reforms under the new tax code is the doubling of the standard deduction. This provision increases the standard deduction to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples. Combined with new lower tax rates, almost every Alabamian should see a tax decrease.

Also important, the new tax code prioritizes American families by doubling the Child Tax Credit from $1,000 to $2,000 per child. It is no secret that raising a family is not cheap; so, this increase provides additional support for families struggling to pay for childcare and other necessary expenses associated with parenting.

To provide even more support for families, the bill preserves the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, as well as the Adoption Tax Credit. Even more, the bill makes improvements to saving options for education by allowing parents to use 529 accounts to save for elementary, secondary, and higher education.

Most people will not have to wait until the next tax season to see the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Already, many hardworking Alabamians are seeing more money in their paychecks each month. That means your hard-earned money is ending up back in your pockets, rather than the coffers of the federal government.

Tax reform has also helped spur overall economic growth. Our bill helps to level the playing field for American businesses, creating new job opportunities and finally causing wages to rise after years of stagnation.

Many businesses have also handed out bonuses and improved benefits to their workforce. Since passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, I have had the pleasure of personally handing out bonus checks at multiple businesses in Southwest Alabama. Trust me, these workers were thrilled with the extra money.

We aren’t stopping now either. The House passed a package of bills last week to help cut down on identity theft and to hold criminals accountable for IRS scams. It is important that these crooks be punished for trying to defraud hardworking Americans, including our nation’s senior citizens.

Equally important, the House also passed bills to make the IRS more efficient, effective, and accountable. The IRS should be a customer-friendly organization that responds to the questions and concerns of the American people.

In the past four months, we have seen tremendous growth right here in Southwest Alabama because of the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act. From our small business owners handing out bonus checks to our single-income families taking home extra money in their paychecks, evidence shows that allowing Americans to keep more of their hard-earned money is a huge boom for our economy.

As we bid farewell to an old, outdated tax code, Americans can rest easy knowing they have a simpler, fairer tax code to work with in the future.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

8 hours ago

Abortion is not a human right, says State Dept. official

The State Department released its Human Rights Report for 2017 on Friday, and State Department officials acknowledged it purposely left out a section on “women’s reproductive rights,” which had been included in previous reports during the Obama administration, noting that the administration does not consider abortion a human right under international law.

“When the State Department is talking about this represents our values as Americans, the removal of sections on women’s reproductive rights – why is that not included in values as Americans?” a reporter asked State Department officials.

“I’m going to explain why it was removed. It was introduced six years ago into the report. It hadn’t been there before,” Michael Kozak, ambassador for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, said.

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“It’s one of the few terms that are used in the report that isn’t derived from an international treaty that has a definition or derived from U.S. law, where there’s a clear definition to the term, and in this case, the previous administration intended it to mean look at the availability of contraception, at the – whether the government tried to impose or coerce people in making decisions about reproduction,” Kozak said.

“In the statements that were made – this was derived from the Beijing Declaration that was done in the ‘90s. At that time, it was very clear and our delegation made a very clear statement that this has nothing to do with abortion. It doesn’t mean abortion,” he said.

Kozak said the use of the term “reproductive rights” means different things to people on both sides of the issue.

“Unfortunately, over the last few years, groups on both sides of that issue domestically have started to use the term, and both seem to think it does include abortion and then argue about it,” he said. “So our thought was let’s just not use a term that has the opposite meaning from the one we intend.

“We went back to the term that’s used in the U.S. statute that requires the Human Rights Report, which is coerced family planning, namely coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization,” Kozak said. “I might mention too, because I went back and looked at last year’s report, the question being asked was, ‘Were there obstacles opposed to getting contraception information and means?’

“The answer in virtually every country was no, there were no obstacles other than, in almost every country, including our own, the availability in rural areas is less than it is in urban areas. But we were taking a lot of space to explain that,” he said.

“So what we’ve done, we’ve kept that information in there. We’ve done it now by a hyperlink. We used to take that information from the WHO report and put it in. We said let’s just use a hyperlink, and then there’s actually more information available that way. So that’s the rationale behind that,” Kozak said.

“It’s not a diminishment of women’s rights or a desire to get away from it; it was to stop using a term that has several different meanings that are not all the ones we intend,” he added.

A reporter later questioned whether Kozak was saying “there are no obstacles for women to get contraception in any country except for if there’s a remote issue.”

“I said with some exceptions, and the exceptions were and still are – and we’ve really gotten at it by flipping back to the original U.S. statutory language. It’s in places like China, where in order to enforce their two – now two-child policy, that there are reports of coerced abortion and involuntary sterilization,” Kozak said.

The ambassador said North Korea also engages in forced abortion, although it’s usually used for political punishment. Also in the country of Belarus, women in state hospitals or who are institutionalized are forced to have abortions or if the woman or baby has disabilities.

“In North Korea, where the government also coerces or forces abortion – although sometimes that’s for political punishment rather than family planning, and we uncovered it,” Kozak said.

“So as we were digging through trying to reduce the bulk of some of this report, I found in the old country I served in, in Belarus, that it turns out that the doctors in the state hospitals, and particularly in the institutions there, if they have a woman who is pregnant and who is a woman with disabilities, the doctors insist on an abortion. Or if they believe the fetus has a disability, they’ll insist on an abortion. So we’ve called that out too,” he said.

“So it’s not – those were the cases, though, in the – under the previous formula where you would say there was a restriction on family planning, freedom of family planning. For most countries, it said, there isn’t any restriction except for the ones imposed by economics and rural-urban type thing,” Kozak said.

“So just to be clear just on that, so taking out the language about those cases therefore means that the U.S. doesn’t believe that the inability for women to get an abortion physically or by law is an abuse of human rights?” a reporter asked.

“Correct, under the previous administration and this one and the one before that. We have never taken the position that abortion was a right under – a human right under international law,” Kozak said.

“This is supposed to be internationally recognized human rights, and it’s an issue on which – some countries prohibit abortion. Some countries, like our own, pretty much no restriction on it, and we don’t say one of those is right and one of those is wrong. We don’t report on it because it’s not a human right,” he said.

“It’s an issue of great policy debate. You can have a good discussion, but there’s no internationally recognized standard as to what’s the right treatment, but the other, yes. The – it is internationally recognized that somebody shouldn’t coerce you to have an abortion or force you to be sterilized,” Kozak added.

(Courtesy of CNSNews.com)