New video and police records confirm a Tomah VA employee assault of a mentally ill patient before that same employee attempts to cover it up with false allegations.
The altercation occurred on November 10, 2015. Initially, the mentally ill patient was counseled for disruptive behavior before police realized the aggressor was actually a VA nurse assistant who lied to police about the altercation.
FIRST REPORTED: New Patient Abuse Allegations At Tomah VAMC
The VA employee was fined $250 for disorderly conduct and allowed to take vacation time while Tomah VA investigated the incident.
Tomah VA just released the slightly altered video to yours truly of one of their employees “striking” a mentally ill veteran in the chest repeatedly. The assault takes place in the lower left corner of the video and is somewhat obscured by VA’s redaction attempts.
The redacted police records show the nursing assistant initially misled investigators about the altercation but was caught on video striking the veteran.
Tomah VA has not yet commented on the outcome of the administrative investigation or whether the employee is allowed to work with veterans after the incident.
Is this the accountability Secretary Bob McDonald bragged about? That an employee could assault a mentally ill patient, lie to VA police about it, and still keep his job?
INITIAL WHISTLEBLOWER ACCOUNT
This attack was first exposed by an anonymous whistleblower who was deeply troubled about this event. The account was first sent to Ryan Honl who forwarded it to me.
“Patients are still being abused, mentally and physically. On November 10, 2015, a patient on 403B was pushed several times by a CNA (J.S.). The nurse coordinator said VA police have a video which clearly shows J.S. pushing the patient. The patient did not defend himself. Another CNA (N.P.) witnessed the incident and she did nothing to stop the abuse. Nor did the report it.”
Below, the CNA listed as J.S. will also be referenced as “VA Employee X”. The victim will be listed as “Patient Y” and placed within the redacted sections of the report to assist readers.
TOMAH VA POLICE ACCOUNT OF VIDEO AND ALTERCATION
According to a redacted police report dated November 25, 2015, the video from the altercation was described as follows:
“The video surveillance camera footage [redacted] from the incident showed the incident started on November 10, 2015, at 1908 hours and 19 seconds. The footage shows [VA Employee X] in the bottom left corner of the screen just out of camera view, and [Patient Y] walking into the dayroom to [VA Employee X] location. The footage shows [Patient Y] making comments to [VA Employee X] but due to there being no audio on the camera system, no specific statements could be heard. The footage next shows [VA Employee X] stand up from where he was seated, and get closer to [Patient Y] making comments back to him along with pointing his finger at him. [VA Employee X] also pushed [Patient Y] in the chest region once, in which at this point [Patient Y] made no advances towards [VA Employee X] and [Patient Y] hands appeared to be open and relaxed… [VA Employee X] can be seen next advancing towards [Patient Y] as second time, and push him in the chest region again causing [Patient Y] to take a few steps backwards. [Patient Y] did attempt to grab [VA Employee X] wrist during the second push, but only when [VA Employee X] made the physical contact first. [VA Employee X] then gets face to face with [Patient Y] while pointing down the hallway out of the dayroom, and then pushed [Patient Y] a third time in the chest region knowing him a few more steps back.”
Employee X then obstructed Patient Y’s departure from the dayroom and proceeds to yell at the mentally ill veteran.
How is that for safe and ethical treatment of our mentally ill veterans? Are veterans safe at Tomah VA?
VA POLICE ACCOUNT OF FALSE STATEMENT
VA police then interviewed the perpetrator (VA employee X) about the incident. Initially, the individual stuck to his story despite VA police confronting him about the film footage that contradicted his story:
“Myself and Officer [redacted] then entered the VA Police Interview Room #1715. The [VA employee] was seated nearest the exit with [redacted] on [redacted] left side. I was seated to [VA Employee X’s] right side and Officer [redacted] was seated facing [VA Employee X] across the table. I asked [VA Employee X] for his permission to close the door to the Interview Room for privacy to which he agreed. Officer [redacted] then explained to [VA Employee X] he was free to leave at any point during the interview and could stop the interview at any time he wished. [VA Employee X] stated he understood and agreed to be interviewed. Officer [redacted] then asked [VA Employee X] to explain the incident involving [patient] on November 10, 2015. [VA Employee X] stated [Patient Y] had become upset about not receiving a snack before other Veterans. According to [VA Employee X], then attempted to intimidate [VA Employee X] “putting him in a corner.” [VA Employee X] then stated, “I attempted to use my PMDB (Preventative Management of Disruptive Behavior) skills verbally but he kept trying to put me in the corner. I then placed my hand on his chest and [Patient Y] grabbed both of my wrists and pulled me toward him.”
“I then informed [VA Employee X] I had reviewed camera footage of the incident and asked him why his recollection of events were different from the camera footage. [VA Employee X] stated, “I don’t really know why!” I asked [VA Employee X] if he was angry or upset with [Patient Y] on November 10, 2015 and he stated, “I don’t think so! I don’t really remember.” I asked [VA Employee X] if [Patient Y] had any previous incidents with being aggressive and he stated, “yeah all the time, it’s just how he is.” I then asked [VA Employee X] if he had gotten tired of [Patient Y] not listening to his verbal requests and wanted to take things to a more physical level and he stated, “yeah it very well could have.” I then exited the Interview Room to retrieve a new Voluntary Witness Statement and then returned. I then asked [VA Employee X] if he wished to provide me with a Voluntary Witness Statement with his corrected version of events and he stated, “No I’d rather not, I’ll just do a verbal statement.” I thanked [VA Employee X] for being honest with me and Officer [redacted] informed him he would be issuing him a citation for violation of 38 CFR 1.218(b)(11) Disorderly conduct I then exited the Interview Room.”
Should the Wisconsin AG’s office step in? Who will ensure the agency is protecting these vulnerable veterans? Why was the employee not charged with assault and battery of a vulnerable adult with a mental illness?
VA EMPLOYEE REVENGE?
In case you missed it above, VA police asked VA Employee X if he “had finally gotten sick and tired of dealing with [Patient Y] and wanted to get physical as payback”?
VA Employee X replied, “Yeah it very well could have.”
According to the anonymous whistleblower report, another VA employee “witnessed the incident and  did nothing to stop the abuse.” As stated above, the Tomah VA police cited the guilty employee of disorderly conduct but not battery without much explanation.
INITIAL FALSE ALLEGATIONS AGAINST VETERAN
An incident report was initiated on November 12, 2015, that the veteran was counseled for swearing and insulting staff members. But the video shows the veteran was assaulted prior to the outburst.
“Veterans Affairs (VA) Police received a complaint about an inpatient. Veteran yelling at and insulting staff members on the Building [redacted] Ward. The Veteran was counseled for his behavior, and the [redacted] [redacted] informed of the incident. No injuries were reported from the incident.”
A police report dated November 23, 2015, indicates the video contradicted the false allegations from J.S., though the version Tomah VA released to us is somewhat obscured. However, the redacted VA police report indicates VA Employee X, aka J.S., pursued the veteran.
Beyond this, according to the whistleblower:
“Several other things have happened on 403 since Jason Simcakoski died. I cannot share this information for fear of reprisal.
“Please forward this information to the appropriate agencies. Our patients cannot defend themselves. Something needs to be done.”
Public Affairs officer Matthew Gowan confirmed the allegations in a response to my inquiry last November:
“A Nursing Assistant has been cited for Disorderly Conduct (carries a $250 fine and $25 administrative fee) based on a VA Police investigation into this matter. Additionally, the Nursing Assistant was removed from patient care duties during the VA Police investigation and will not have patient care duties during the ongoing Administrative fact finding.”
The video is intentionally blurred at certain points halfway into the confrontation. For that reason, I plan to file an appeal with the Office of General Counsel to get the video less obscured because it blocks any review of the continued pushing.
Do we think Governor Scott Walker will step in? What does Paul Ryan (R-WI) think about VA’s treatment of veterans at Tomah VA?
I will be curious to find out.
Tomah VA was contacted for comment as to whether VA Employee X is back working with veterans. Mr. Gowan did not respond in time for this publication.
DOWNLOAD: FOIA Response And Police Report