Tomah VA just provided its video and photos of the Hungry Hungry Hippos event I exposed on this website last year, minus the faces of offending employees.

Last November, I published a story about video leaked to me from a VA employee of Tomah VA and its annual Halloween party. That party included employee dress-up and a team building game of Hungry Hungry Hippos that then went viral. The event was on company time while the facility was under investigation by DEA for drug trafficking.

Yesterday, after ten months, I finally received the official footage from VA directly, minus the faces of the employees who participated. I wanted to publish it here for your enjoyment. I could appeal the FOIA, but I think VA sending the footage is good enough for now.

As an aside, many folks in the House Committee on Veterans Affairs did not think I would get this video straight from Tomah VA to verify the authenticity of the video much less to get footage that was less blurry. So I am giving myself a pat on the back right now. Below is the original footage that was blurry but good enough to play on Fox News.

Below is the original footage that was blurry but good enough to play on Fox News.

 

TOMAH VA HUNGRY HUNGRY HIPPOS PHOTOS

Tomah VA Hippos 1img_4036_redactedimg_4044_redactedHungry Hungry Hippos

TOMAH VA HUNGRY HUNGRY HIPPOS FOIA

Here is a cut and past of the FOIA response I just received. Thanks VA for always giving me information to write about…

Dear Mr. Krause:

This letter is the initial agency decision on your November 6, 2015, request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, for “any and all copies of surveillance video and/or audio for the Tomah VAMC CREW Carnival including the ‘Hungry Hungry Hippos’ events. I also seek any and all video and/or audio or photographs referenced in Matthew Gowan’s email from November 2, 2015”.

I received this request in my office on November 6, 2015 and it was assigned the FOIA Tracking number listed above.

A thorough search for the documents you seek has concluded. Surveillance cameras are not mounted within or outside of the building where this event took place, therefore there is no surveillance video footage responsive to your request. The documents responsive to your request are eleven (11) pictures and one (1) video. You will find the images on the enclosed CD-ROM.

However, all information compiled, if disclosed, could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy and therefore images have been withheld under FOIA Exemption 6, 5 U.S.C. § 552 (b)(6). FOIA Exemption 6 permits VA to withhold information within a document if disclosure of the information would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of a living individual’s personal privacy. Stated another way, VA may withhold information under Exemption 6 where disclosure of the information, either by itself or in conjunction with other information available to either the public or the FOIA requester, would result in an unwarranted invasion of an individual’s personal privacy without contributing significantly to the public’s understanding of the activities of the federal government. Specifically, the identities of the individuals who are shown in these pictures were withheld. The video has been blurred to ensure the privacy of the participants.

If you disagree with my determination to withhold the information under FOIA Exemption 6, please be advised you may appeal to:

Office of the General Counsel (024)

Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Avenue, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20420

Email: [email protected].gov

If you should choose to file an appeal, your appeal must be postmarked or electronically transmitted no later than ninety (90) calendar days from the date of this letter. Please include a copy of this letter with your written appeal and clearly state why you disagree with the determinations set forth in this response.

In addition to filing an appeal with the Office of General Counsel regarding my determination, you may also seek assistance and/or dispute resolution services regarding your FOIA request from VHAs FOIA Public Liaison and or Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) as provided below:

VHA FOIA Public Liaison:

Email Address: [email protected].gov

Phone Number: (877) 461-5038

Office of Government Information Services (OGIS)

Email: [email protected].gov

Fax: (202) 741-5769

Mailing address:

Office of Government Information Services

National Archives and Records Administration

8601 Adelphi Road

College Park, MD 20740-6001

If you have any further questions, please call 608-372-3971 , extension 66732.

Sincerely,

Shai Sims Brown

FOIA Officer

23 COMMENTS

  1. That certainly is cutting edge technology the VA utilized to block those faces. May have been how the VA used the $1.8 Billion in IT Upgrade $$, when a black sharpie would have done the job for $3. Did the VA have to go through Betamax video tapes to find this? LMAO! IBM’s Watson must feel buyers remorse for this collaboration with VA.
    These images you got back look very 1985 Seven-Eleven convenience store surveillance footage. LMAO.

  2. In the letter back to you, Ben. I see VA used the old tired response of “privacy”, again. And, it took VA’s public relations people, almost a year to get back to you!
    Plus, since the video had already been seen by tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of viewers, without the faces being “redacted”! IMHO, what’s the problem?
    They’ve already made fools outta themselves. Why not have “KARE 11” rerun that video again!? Plus, the “redacted” version! Maybe this time it’ll get national coverage.

    This brings up other “redacted documents” the government lackeys don’t want the public to see. Hillary’s “emailgate”!
    I bring this issue up because, after y’all watch the “Hungry, Hungry Hippo” video, the next video is of the current, (28 Sept 2016), “investigation” over “Hillary’s Emailgate”. With the Director of the FBI, Comey, vs. Gowdy, Jordan, Chaffetz and Ratcliffe of Congress!

    What is it with redacting names or faces? Especially when the video was already seen unredacted a year ago!

    Has anyone heard anything about Obama’s “Town Hall” last night!?!?!

    Oh, and namnibor, a “marker” can be purchased for $1,06 at the “Dollar Tree”, Or, $.89 (+ tax) at “Family Dollar”. LOL! Just trying to help brother!

  3. Just to add to the festivities at Tomah during the month of October they hold the annual Pumpkin Drop.

    Here is a link to the Pumpkin drop pics on Flicker.

    “https://www.flickr.com/photos/tomahvamc/15415933138/in/photostream/”

    I wonder who buys the pumpkins and pays for all the equipment used to stage the annual Pumpkin Drop?

    • Oh and for some of the photos from another October staff event at Tomah here is a link to the Employees picnic.

      “https://www.flickr.com/photos/tomahvamc/15250870879/in/photostream/”

      The main caption for this group of pictures reads:

      “”
      Tomah VA Employee Picnic

      The dreary weather of October 2nd could not diminish the spirit of the 2014 Tomah VA Employee Picnic. Members of management braved the dropping temperatures of fall to cook and serve a picnic lunch for hundreds of employees who showed up in waves for the annual event. Through the generosity of the Veterans Canteen Service, employees were treated to burgers, brat burgers and black bean burgers as well as drinks and sides dishes. Off shift and outpatient clinic staff weren’t forgotten either, being treated to sub sandwiches.

      “”
      Clearly “Through the generosity of the Veterans Canteen Service”, means at taxpayers expense.

      Also Since “Off shift and outpatient clinic staff weren’t forgotten either, being treated to sub sandwiches.”

      Clearly the picnic is part of there job descriptions at Tomah and they were all paid to set it up and attend.

      • Hey Elf,

        Didn’t you mention that the VA gets to start spending it’s budget each year on October 1st. October certainly seems to be a very festive month for employees at Tomah.

      • Hey, Seymore,
        Check out this new article from “military.com”!

        “VA Can’t Provide Data to Support Leasing Instead of Building”

        29 Sept 2016
        “Stars and Stripes” by Nikki Wentling

        VA’s spending a shitpot full of taxpayers money on leasing!
        Lease vs Building? WTF, we all know VA doesn’t know how to build anything, except massive debt!!!!!!

        ____________

        Here’s another ridiculous story, a “Wizard of Oz” moment, from our “beloved” Commander in Chief in today’s “military.com”!

        He said he’d “…be proud if his daughters would join the military!”
        What a line of B/S!!!!!!! Hey, Obama, your oldest one is of age. Have her join now!
        Question: Just what would they be suited for in any military? Rememer how she cried when she went to Hollywood. Where they made her a “goffer of coffee!”.
        Plus, You know damn well he wouldn’t allow them to join!
        I’ll even bet you Kaine has his boy “retire” *IF* he’s elected as VPOTUS!
        (I wonder if any trolls will comment on this today?)

    • Those may look like pumpkins but they are actually rejects from VA Genomic Labs…in an ‘Invasion of The Body Snatchers” kind of way. The VA is attempting to clone more minions to double the pleasure in performance bonuses and of course, these reject pods get used in festivities while Dr. Candy Man Houlihan runs the VA Cocktail Funhouse Ride. 🙂 Yeah, I love Halloween.
      @crazyelf- Yeah, I knew you can buy markers for much cheaper, that was the price for same marker contracted by AFGE and VA Procurement would cost taxpayers, possibly more. LOL

      The thing that gripes my butt about last night’s Town Hall after having the morning to chew the fat is, Obama repeatedly used the excuse, when confronted with a widow’s question about no access to care and he was in agony with colon cancer for two years before the VA would do anything, or the widow that her husband took his own life…Obama ultimately said, “These things can and will happen…” (paraphrased)…so to me it sounded like Bush’s “Fog Of War” line and a blow off answer and am pretty sure Obama is the type that does not admit a mistake or that his opinion is anything but right…other than that, some glum issues were indeed brought-up in form of questions from circle and you could pick out the *few* that may have been scripted but for most part from what I hear on news now, it’s finally brought these horrific issues into more light…for the time being and hope it seeps into the Presidential Debate this time as well.

      Bad neuropathy day. Pretty sure you can stream the CNN Town Hall from their site and it more than likely is on youtube as well. Peace and rant out.

      • CNN has talking heads from different org’s talking about what the POTUS did not address, nitty gritty frustrations with access to VA Care and more….this will in no way sway me towards Granny, because at the Town Hall, Obama specifically made the sweeping exception “the outstanding upper VA management as not the problem…but the influx of more Veterans from the wars. Long wars”. He even praised Sec. McDonald and crew. How’s that? Also, why did Obama wait to hold his first and last “Military/Veteran Presidential Town Hall” three months before his exit in shy of 8 years while we have been in constant war? Is it just me being hypercritical or is that indeed a bit odd? Disconnection is strong.

        Great to have this getting air time like this and hope it grows momentum. Too bad Benjamin could not have been at that round table of ‘talking heads’ re-explaining and rehashing what was and was not talked about, but it was good all the same.
        Obama was even asked by a military member why he will not use and address our actual enemy’s name and he said the same blah, blah….the notion that…blah, blah… 🙂

      • namnibor, I read another article on “military.com” this morning, where Obama is “…sending 600 more troops to Iraq…” for the push on Mosul.

        His town hall last night, that I get from your description, didn’t really get much resolved! Basically, just another “blah, blah, blah, blah, blah moment” of his last (almost) eight years of the following; military “offensive” indecisions, extreme racial division, economic stagnation, extreme job lose, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.!!!!!

      • P.S.
        Hey Brother, I would venture to say, VA would probably spend $30.00 to $50.00 each for a $.89 (cent) magic marker.
        They would probably say “We have to have them!”
        “They’re a necessity for our people!”
        Or some such B/S!

      • Not “resolved” but Obama’s answer to each VA FAIL was more or less…”It’s not perfect but…we have made many improvements? And Obama touted the “problems at VA” as no proper IT and TOOLS to do the heavier influx of Veterans….**NOTHING** about the same idiots that will be using these new expensive tools and Veterans in the year 2045 will find the VA is yet still at 1985 Tech and all that multibillion IT Contract gear iwill be found in warehouses in crates unused….except the crates will be mostly empty” LOL.

        Obama also praised the VSO’s for all the hard and great work they do. (vote for Hildabeast psyops)

        No nothing “resolved” but issues certainly got voiced that have not been allowed to be so for years now…perhaps 7 3/4 years too little too late? Just my take. The yin and yang of it.

      • Scripted? Do a search on, “VA Chief Sees Congress Letting Politics Slow Veteran Reforms” and you find an article about McDonald essentially blaming Congress for slowing any reforms…of the VA.

        It makes me suspect veterans will become a campaign issue at some point, in the debates or somewhere, and they are trying to point the finger at Congress.

    • I just gotta ask. Why is it when the VA FOIA office responds to a request for records, they take personal privacy VERY highly and redact faces from all images, including the back of a woman’s head…unless she has a face on the back of her head too… but the VA at Tomah has a public facing FLICKR page with all these pictures…and NO redactions.

      It would seem to me employees at Tomah have already relinquished any privacy by the VA posting these pictures publicly on FLICKR.

      It also seems to me the VA could cut down on being the highest violator of privacy in the nation by requiring a picture of a VA employee on every page of a veterans medical record.

      I mean, since they are so concerned about privacy and all.

  4. Sums up the farce that the Tomah va has become. Bunch of high paid federal employee blockheads. How much time and resources did the govt va FOIA department burn to block out what’s already out there publicly anyway?

  5. I realize that the employment practices at VA are less than stellar, but in reality every minute those dedicated hippos spent gathering up VA balls is one less moment they spent breaking the balls of veterans. Win, win for our precious veterans.

  6. I was listening on the radio today to a Board member of BART, (the San Francisco Bay area transit authority). He was blaming much of their problems on a 1970’s era computer system. He had no answer as to why management has not addressed the problem in 46 plus years.He did admit that a 30% pay raise did not apply to only Union Members, but also to upper management, regardless of performance.

    • In a similar scenario, the Transit Authority was just interviewed and talked about in New Jersey in the wake of today’s train crash, and they have been putting off for over 46+ years installing the mandated computer system that would prevent these type of crashes and lives loss but it comes down to the bottom line which is $$. Such is the VA. Except you can purchase all the shiny new tech but if you are placing it in the same idiot’s hands and crappy management, what good is it?

      • I used to work for the B&O/C&O R/R.
        On all trains, those on “Main Line” passenger/freight trains, have what was called a “dead man’s switch”! This was in the ‘cab’ where the engineer was located. His/Her “foot” operated it By pushing down!
        If the engineer lost consciousness, and their foot came off this pedal, the train came to a stop.
        I wonder “IF” these passenger trains are/were equipped with this federally mandated device? If not, it’s then safe to believe, especially on passenger type trains, it’s an accident waiting to happen!

        I would also like to add something about “train derailments”! In the mid to late 80’s railroad corporations, which are federally funded, or Government Subsidized, the hiring of “trackmen” became “sub contracted”! Which means, the quality of the track became less than desirable. Why? Because the men who were hired thought the work was too hard.
        This I know to be true, because I’ve spoke to many “old timers” who had risen to supervisory positions over the years.
        I myself went from “working on the rails” (trackman) to an “A” Operator on machines! Some of the machines I operated were the “Spiker”, “Tamper”, ” Tie Injector” (this was the hardest)!
        I enjoyed going to work.
        Now y’all might ask, why did I leave.
        Because in the 70’s railroads began laying “ribbon rail”! A quarter mile length of rail welded together, end to end. After that, the railroads wouldn’t need all the workers. So, “pink slips” started.
        That’s why I went back into the military!

  7. I forgot to add that President Obama last night specifically referred to the VA as a “Big Ship”. We all know another analogy for that big ship and just found it interesting. The V.A. Titanic. Typical Obama response to an issue. Play both sides and never take a stand but double dares anyone to have the audacity to question the notion of his being right. I think that’s why we have such a mess in the current wars right now. I hear a lot of Generals are supporting Trump. 🙂

    • This POTUS believes his own lies. Like last night at that Town Hall, when he basically stated, SHIT HAPPENS, to that “Gold Star Mother! “World News” had that ‘clip’ on tonight at 6:30pm! It’s that old saying, “Say a lie often enough, and it will sooner or later be considered a truth!”
      Just as is Hillary, “The Butcher of Benghazi”, has been doing for over 30 years!

      I agree namnibor. He could have been referencing the “HMS TITANIC”! Or, maybe he is finally realizing his “Royal Reign” is about to come to an abrupt end. Don’t you think his place is at the helm when it sinks!

      With all the corruption being brought out into the light by many members of Congress recently. He may be now under pressure to keep his opinions to a minimum!

      I’ve seen many Utube videos where even the Democrats are jumping over to the Republican’s side on many issues! Especially, over Issues which include National Security! “THE PRIMARY CONSTITUTIONAL DUTY OF POTUS!” Which he is refusing to do! That’s why I’ve included Hillary’s name!

      Yes, even the higher ranking generals are siding with Mr. Trump. I believe it’s well over 200 now! It may even be higher.

      I think it was within this past week, where the Top General of the Army, or “Joint Chiefs of Staff”, have come out and stated Obama’s, and his staff’s, plan to defeat ISIS, will never, and is not working!

      Just yesterday, Director Comey, head of the FBI, has stated “…within the next 2 to 5 years…”, America, and Western Europe, will suffer something worse than 9/11/2001! (Paraphrasing the second part, but y’all get the drift! It’s going to be bad, folks!)

      All of our National Security Agency Personnel, have also been very vocal over this issue! Our “Constitutional Republic” is not only under attack from outside, it’s under attack from within! A complete violation of the Constitution!

      I read an article from some nonconservative news report, I think it was WND, today, saying the refugees are basically “vetting themselves”! In essence, we have absolutely no idea who’s being allowed into our country! How’s that for a damning report!

      How’s that for keeping America Safe!

    • His Big Ship tripe is nothing more than rehashed excuses from the 1990’s.

      Back then there were politicians talking about the VA being a Big Ship, and like a big ship, it took time to turn it around. It’s an easy excuse for any politician to make for why bureaucracy never seems to change.

  8. An interesting response to your FOIA Ben. I’m guessing it took 10 months to respond because they had to find someone who knew how to use software to edit the video or photos.

    In my opinion, the VA abuses that exemption in order to avoid embarrassment.

    Their response suggests that providing their identities is not overwhelmingly in the public interest. If you appeal their decision, you should state the overwhelming taxpaying public interest results from you reporting on these activities on your blog and to other media, and is in fact educational to a wide number of veterans…and taxpayers.

    Why would you appeal their response? For redacting their faces?

    I ask because I just received the second part of a partial FOIA response from them, and used the template from your site when I submitted it.

    Both responses are roughly 125 pages long. Both are almost the same exact copies other than about 10 pages.

    The response I received from the VACO has (b)(6) exemptions all over the place.

    The other response I received has the exact same records, but there are NO (b)(6) exemptions on any of the documents.

    What it tells me is VACO redacted names, emails, phone extensions…all kinds of things, simply to avoid embarrassment to VACO upper management. If they were identified, it would show they ignored my contacting them for 2 months, then when they finally did decide to take action, they simply forwarded an email to another person asking them to look into it.

    Why exempt a federal telephone, email or other contact information using a personal privacy exemption for those who responded in the copies, or were directed to take action?

    It really is a joke to see the records side by side. One with huge black marks all over them, and the other without any markings at all.

  9. 10/06/2016

    Dear Benjamin Krause,

    This year it will be the Creepy, Creepy, Creepy Clown Contest.

    Be sure they will be handing out the Opiates—nothing has changed.

    The place [Tomah] is a Haunted Haus.

    Sincerely,

    Don Karg

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