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Central Alabama VA director removed as scandals continue to pile up

Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System - West Campus (Photo: Dept. of Veterans Affairs)
Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System – West Campus (Photo: Dept. of Veterans Affairs)

James Talton, the embattled Director of the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS), has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, as reports of mismanagement and impropriety continue to come out.

In early June, a federal audit included CAVHCS 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, CAVHCS 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.

CAVHCS employees had created an elaborate scheme to hide the fact that they were not delivering timely care to their patients.

Talton originally told Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL2) that he had fired the offending employees. Yellowhammer learned two days later that Talton had not fired the employees, but instead had fired the whistleblowers who reported the wrongdoing.

“Director Talton apologized for what he called a ‘misunderstanding’ over him repeatedly saying employees had been ‘relieved of their duties,’” Rep. Roby said in a statement after the news broke. “However, the unmistakable tenor of (our) conversation and (Talton’s) 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.”

The next day Roby dispatched two top members of her Washington, D.C. staff to Montgomery to “field information related to ongoing problems with the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS).”

Since then, the scandals have continued to pile up.

At least 900 unread patient X-RAY tests – some showing malignancies – were lost and top hospital administrators tried to cover up the problem.

The VA pulmonologist was found to have manipulated more than 1,200 patient records but still went on to receive a “satisfactory performance” review.

CAVHCS’ racked up millions of dollars in unpaid bills, affecting its ability to depend on local hospitals to help with increased demand.

Email records showed the local VA director was alerted to concerns over patient scheduling discrepancies more than eight months before taking action.

And most recently, a CAVHCS employee took a recovering vet to a crack house in Tuskegee to buy illegal drugs and solicit a prostitute.

Talton and his chief of staff have now been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, but sources say they are almost assuredly on their way out. Yellowhammer will update this story as more information becomes available.


Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

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