Saturday, May 24, 2014

Another VA Whistleblower Comes Forward- This Time in Florida

As more and more VA Centers throughout the country find themselves coming under scrutiny for mismanagement and intentionally delaying and withholding treatment from veterans, another whistleblower has come forward.

A detective in the VA's police department [yes- the VA has its own police department- NANESB!] has come forward with allegations of abuse and drug dealing on the grounds of the Miami Veterans Affairs center.

Fiore, a criminal investigator for the VA police department in South Florida, contacted CBS4 News hoping to shed light on what he considers a culture of cover-ups and bureaucratic neglect. Among his charges: Drug dealing on the hospital grounds is a daily occurrence.

“Anything from your standard prescription drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, and of course marijuana, cocaine, heroin, I’ve come across them all,” he explained.

Even inside the hospital, he says he was stopped from doing his job – investigating reports of missing drugs from the VA pharmacy. When the amount of a particular drug inside the pharmacy doesn’t match the amount that the pharmacy is supposed to have, a report, known as a “discrepancy report” is generated. Normally it was his job to investigate the reports to determine if they were the result of harmless mistakes or criminal activity. But all that changed, he said, about two years ago.

“I was instructed that I was to stop conducting investigations pertaining to controlled substance discrepancies,” he recalled.

He said he was personally told to stop investigating them by the hospital’s chief of staff, Dr. Vincent DeGennaro.

“I have no idea why,” he said. “He’s the chief of staff he doesn’t have to tell me why.”

Referring to drug dealing on the hospital grounds, Fiore said, “It’s been a problem for a while, for a very long while.” But administrators refuse to address it.

Fiore said the dealing usually takes place near the front entrance to the hospital, where patients and other gather to smoke. Patients will sometimes sell portions of the prescriptions they just filled. Other individuals will bring illegal drugs onto the grounds to sell. He said he has seen individuals in the drug treatment program time their smoke breaks so they can do downstairs and meet their dealers.

The VA police, who are all sworn federal law enforcement officers, can do little to stop it. The handful of VA police officers who patrol the hospital grounds are easy to spot since they are always in uniform and are well-known to patients.

“The patients know us, they see us every day,” Fiore said. “So I had brought up a plan to bring in somebody from a different facility where these patients don’t know them and basically go undercover into this [drug rehab] program or into this area at least and try to give us some good leads, so we can try to eliminate or reduce the amount of drugs that are coming in there.”

He said it wasn’t simply a matter of trying to make arrests. He said his goal was “to protect the patients.”

Fiore said he even found someone with undercover experience who was ready to do it. He said he presented his plans to his superiors, but never heard back from them.

“I’m still waiting,” he said. “And it’s been a couple of years now.”

Fiore said another reason drug dealing became a problem was the lack of working surveillance cameras inside and around the hospital. The lack of security cameras was an issue the Inspector General raised in its report earlier this year into Cutter’s death. They said the cameras had not been working for at least six months prior to Cutter’s overdose.

In fact, Fiore said, the cameras have not worked for at least four years. In 2010 he was assigned the responsibility of conducting a “vulnerability assessment” of the VA facilities in South Florida. He noted the problem with the cameras back then. As a result of his report, he said the Miami VA was allocated money to improve security. He said he believes the amount was somewhere between $2.5 million and $3.5 million.

But he doesn’t know what happened to the money.

“I can tell you it wasn’t spent on cameras or any of the other recommendations that were made in that assessment,” he said, “because they still have yet to be corrected.”

Fiore said that he's also seen marks and bruises on elderly patients in the VA Center that are consistent with abuse- something he claims the hospital prefers to deal with administratively rather than as a criminal matter. There is also the matter of theft of items ranging from computers to medical equipment inside the facility.

A four year veteran of the Marine Corps, Fiore reportedly came forward after the recent death of one of the VA Center's patients- a 27 year old Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran named Nicholas Cutter who was being treated at the VA drug rehab center. Cutter died from a cocaine overdose inside the center, but Fiore wasn't told about the circumstances behind Cutter's death until two days after the fact. Fiore said that although drug overdoses are to be investigated as a criminal matter, materiel from Cutter's room had already been cleaned out despite the fact that it was supposed to be treated as a crime scene.

Meanwhile, President Obama gave a terse press conference from the White House this week in which he claimed he didn't know about the myriad VA Scandals until reading media reports about it this month. Obama then expressed outrage before defending VA Secretary Shinseki's tenure and flying off to a $35,000 per plate fundraiser for Senator Dick Durbin on Friday.

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