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The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) today alerted the President and Congress that an anesthesiologist who worked at a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center in White River Junction, Vermont (WRJ VAMC) engaged in serious professional misconduct, including an aggressive intervention during a surgical procedure that caused serious injury to a patient. Three female employees at the facility also disclosed troubling allegations about the doctor's conduct, including the physical assault of nursing staff at the facility.
The VA's investigation was unable to substantiate several of the allegations, including that the doctor struck one of the whistleblowers, though this determination appears to ignore both the details of a prior incident and the sworn testimony of the whistleblowers that included information regarding several confrontational incidents involving the doctor.
The VA's report did discuss a June 2018 incident where the doctor struck one of the whistleblowers during a procedure when she reportedly did not move when requested. The investigation concluded the doctor did not conduct himself in a “respectful and courteous" manner. However, the report failed to acknowledge that this incident was so serious that the VA police were involved and that four employees who witnessed the event provided official statements to the police. The police then conducted an investigation in conjunction with WRJ VA Human Resources staff. Ultimately, the doctor was counseled for his behavior. Additionally, while the investigation substantiated the same doctor was present during a procedure where a patient suffered a potentially life-threatening injury, the report suggested that a medical resident was primarily responsible, a conclusion that again contravened eyewitness testimony.
After a whistleblower publicly disclosed the doctor's inappropriate behavior, the VA impugned the whistleblower's character in a press statement featuring a distasteful ad hominem attack in response to an inquiry from the Boston Globe.
In his letters to the President and Congress, Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner found the agency report to be unreasonable, stating: “The agency seems to disregard a concerning and significant pattern of violent physical behavior by this individual directed toward female staff." Kerner further called the press statement “an appalling attack on a VA employee who was struck by a supervisor while appropriately discharging her duties."