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VA Worker Says Boss Retaliated Over Records

CHICAGO (CN) - Veterans Administration officials retaliated against a social worker who refused to alter medical records after a quadriplegic patient's wife killed herself.

Aruna Jha says in the Wednesday complaint that she had been employed as a social worker at the Hines Veterans Administration hospital near Chicago for nearly eight years when the events occurred.

In February 2014, the wife of a veteran patient who was a quadriplegic and required a ventilator committed suicide, according to the complaint. Immediately afterward, she claims, she was approached by Dr. Michael Richardson, head of the hospital's spinal cord injury division, who allegedly "demanded that [Jha] redact and change her notes related to the care and treatment of the client, including but not limited to plaintiff's notes that the client and his wife were in a very risky situation.

"On information and belief, plaintiff alleges that Richardson's demand to alter the client's records was based on Richardson's desire to avoid potential legal liability and Congressional scrutiny," Jha says.

Jha says after she refused to alter the records, Richardson charged her with misconduct and insubordination.

In May, Jha says, she met with U.S. Senator Mark Kirk to discuss the illegal conduct at Hines, and also sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois on the same subject.

She claims that Richardson and other hospital administrators sought "to punish her for reporting their misconduct," by concocting evidence of her poor performance such as a "so-called customer survey" that no other social worker was subject to, and an "performance improvement plan" based on that alleged survey.

Defendants also criticized Jha's decision to approve 24/7 home health care for a veteran, rather than only six hours of care, and to approve transportation expenses for a veteran who did not meet all the criteria, because Jha learned of another veteran who died after being denied transportation expenses.

Jha seeks unspecified damages under the Whistleblower Act, Prohibited Personnel Practices Act, and for violation of her First Amendment rights.

She is represented by Steven Glink in Northbrook, Ill.

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