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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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