- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2014

The chairman of a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee demanded Thursday that new VA Secretary Bob McDonald explain serious deficiencies in the department’s Caribbean Health Care System, including the arrest of a top official and a suicide note left by a veteran who said he wanted to end his life because of the poor treatment he was receiving.

Rep. Mike Coffman, Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, outlined what he called a “substantial number of incidents” in a letter to Mr. McDonald on Thursday, and questioned the leadership of DeWayne Hamlin, the center’s medical director, asking how he could have been absent for more than 100 days in one year.

Mr. Coffman also said Mr. Hamlin’s arrest earlier this on drunken driving and drug possession charges — though later dropped — were “very concerning” and presumably occurred during an extended absence.

Mr. Hamlin did not return an email Thursday and has previously declined to discuss the arrest, though he told The Washington Times that he was being treated for an undisclosed medical condition.

The lawmaker said the problems at the Caribbean system went far beyond Mr. Hamlin.

He told Mr. McDonald that “more than one veteran” had attempted suicide by using the outside railing of a parking garage, but nobody fixed the railings to make sure it didn’t happen again.

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“In fact, it is our understanding that one veteran even left a suicide note explaining that the reason he wanted to end his life was the due to the extremely poor treatment he was receiving,” the congressman said.

A spokeswoman for the VA declined to comment on the letter Thursday, saying officials had only just received it.

Mr. congressman, in his letter, said 21 out of 23 of the system’s mental health doctors went on a non-VA retreat in September last year, leaving the mental health unit understaffed and forcing appointments to be rescheduled.

Other deficiencies cited in the letter included:

A June investigation that found VA staff running personal errands while on government time;

Ongoing problems highlighted by the Office of Special Counsel in a letter to President Obama earlier this year;

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“Inappropriate hiring practices” involving “pre-selection, tailoring of jobs for specific individuals, opening jobs to only those within the serve … and not considering veterans for positions.”

The letter also raised concerns about an accusation of retaliation against a whistleblower for “voicing his concerns and complaints about the actions noted in this letter.”

While the letter doesn’t identify the whistleblower, The Times recently reported on a job action taken against a Caribbean network employee, Joseph Colon-Christiansen. In interview, Mr. Colon-Christiansen said he lost his credentials and received a 21-day notice of possible termination after reporting the details of Mr. Hamlin’s arrest to VA officials.

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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