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Friday, May 24, 2024 | Back issues
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VA Will Probe Alleged|Suicide Cover-Up

DENVER (CN) - The Department of Veterans Affairs will investigate whether a long waiting list at a Colorado Springs VA hospital contributed to a veteran's suicide, and whether the hospital falsified records to cover it up.

Two U.S. senators asked the VA inspector general to investigate in September, after a whistleblower reported that the VA hospital forged documents to cover up the suicide of 26-year-old Army Ranger Rollin Oliver Berry II, a 6-year veteran who killed himself in July while awaiting treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.

In a Sept. 19 letter to the VA inspector general, the senators wrote that the whistleblower "expressed concern" about the suicide and waiting lists at the VA hospitals in Colorado Springs, Golden, and Denver.

"This whistleblower believes the Colorado Springs facility may have falsified documents after the suicide," Colorado Sens. Ron Johnson and Corry Gardner wrote.

"Disturbingly, on September 13, the whistleblower received a VA Memorandum, demanding that the whistleblower's appearance for a 'Fact-Finding Interview' about 'an alleged privacy violation.'"

Johnson is chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The senators added: "We have heard concern from VA employees about their ability to speak with Congress due to the fear of retaliation. It should be clear that all VA employees have a right to speak with Congress."

The whistleblower claimed the VA has been using "unofficial" waiting lists to hide how long it actually takes for a veteran to get an appointment — allegations that have tarnished the VA's reputation for year and led to congressional hearings.

The VA has said its goal is to assign each veteran to an appointment within two weeks of a request, but many have had to wait for months, and some have died waiting.

In 2014 VA whistleblower Pauline DeWenter, a scheduling clerk in Phoenix, claimed that secret waiting lists showed veterans waited months for appointments, and that records were altered after veterans died waiting, to improve the office's performance statistics.

The VA Inspector General Michael Missal agreed to investigate, Gardner said in an Oct. 20 statement, quoting an apparently undated letter to him from the inspector general.

"The circumstances regarding the alleged document falsification as well as the alleged use of unofficial wait lists are now under review by OOG staff," Missal wrote. "Upon completion of our review, we will make every effort to share whatever information we can in accordance with applicable law."

The letter did not address the whistleblower's retaliation claim.

Gardner did not respond to a request for comment.

Berry, a 2003 graduate of Williamstown High School in West Virginia, served three years with the 25th Infantry and three years with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, according to his obituary in The Parkersburg (W. Va.) News and Sentinel. He died on July 5 in Fountain, Colo.

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