On her February 19th episode of “Full Measure,” host Sharyl Attkisson investigates new concerns involving the Department of Veterans Affairs. Attkisson examines allegations in a lawsuit against a Veterans Administration contractor getting millions of taxpayer dollars while accused of cheating veterans.
Cleaning up the scandal-plagued Department of Veterans Affairs was one of the main themes of President Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Born in Iran, David Vatan attended medical school and came to live in the U.S. He got a job in California working for a VA contractor under Lockheed Martin: QTC Medical Services. Vatan’s job was to review medical files of Vietnam vets to see if they’re eligible for payments for injuries from Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide used to remove leaves from trees in jungles where the enemy hid.
Vatan: By reviewing their files, I was honored and I felt that I, there is a purpose in what I do and at the end of the day every day, I felt so good if I reviewed a file and I found the evidence that could benefit our veterans. That’s the least I could do.
Sharyl: So their ability to get payments or benefits hinged on the reviews that people like you were doing, of their medical files?
But Vatan says he quickly saw major problems at QTC: large numbers of vets denied benefits after he says their medical files weren’t properly reviewed.
Sharyl: What made you think that something wasn’t right?
Vatan: I noticed that some of my co-workers are reviewing claim folders a lot faster than I did, and then I realize some of them do not have the necessary background to review and understand the highly complex medical records. And, much to my surprise, some of them had only high school education.
QTC got $300 to $350 per file. The faster the analysts worked, the more money QTC made.
Sharyl: How many files do you think could reasonably be reviewed in a day?
Vatan: Five or six based on my observation.
Sharyl: But some people were doing fifty?
Vatan: Fifty and sixty.
QTC staff emails confirmed the files were being pushed through in what Vatan sees as impossibly fast: “We are running behind,” the staff were told. “We were 30 short.” “We did not do well yesterday.” “We need to make it up today.” Vatan reported his concerns to QTC’s senior leadership and parent company, Lockheed
Vatan: I approached the management and I was challenged, and then I approached the Lockheed Martin ethics office.
Sharyl; How did you tell Lockheed Martin what you thought was wrong?
Vatan: I told them I believe it’s unethical, unprofessional and as a result, based on the statistics that they have released, it’s unacceptable.
Sharyl: The company was getting a huge amount of tax dollars to conduct these reviews?
Vatan: Absolutely. I think it’s close to 50 million dollars. That’s your tax money.
Sharyl: What would they say?
Vatan: They say, “We’ll look into it,” and they conducted several interviews with me, of course the ethics office did, and they took their time and then eventually they send me an email. They said, “your allegations were unsubstantiated.”
After blowing the whistle, Vatan says he faced harassment and retaliation. QTC’s CEO admonished him for “creating a disruptive work environment.” He was eventually fired for misconduct, which he denies. Vatan filed a whistleblower suit in federal court, alleging fraud and retaliation. The case was dismissed. He’s appealing.
Vatan: I felt that not only they’re defrauding for our government, but also at the same time they’re scamming and screwing our veterans.
Rep. Phil Roe, R-TN: If what he says is true, then these claims have not been properly adjudicated.
Congressman Phil Congressman Phil Roe, Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, is looking into the handling of Agent Orange claims and Vatan’s allegations.
Rep. Roe: I think it needs to be investigated. I think we need to look at it. We certainly have asked the VA for an explanation for it here.
QTC has been under scrutiny before. A 2008 audit by the Inspector General found QTC overcharged taxpayers more than $6 million for vets’ medical exams. Yet four years later, QTC got the lucrative government contract to review Agent Orange claims.
Rep. Roe: I think the veterans deserve more for the money we’re spending.
The VA didn’t respond to Attkisson’s interview requests. Also, QTC declined to comment “due to ongoing litigation.” Dr. Vatan hopes his story will make the VA and its contractors more accountable, and he still sees the U.S. as among the best countries the world.
Sharyl: I see you’re wearing an American pin, an American flag. Why is that?
Vatan: I’m proud of this country. It’s one of the safest countries in the world and the safety and security that we all enjoy, we owe it to our veterans because they fought the wars outside of our border in the past.
Though QTC and Lockheed Martin wouldn’t talk with Attkisson, their lawyers argued in court, “There is nothing inherently wrong with QTC encouraging people to work quickly.” QTC said Vatan’s level wasn’t the final say in reviews, because files were then sent to doctors hired for that purpose. They noted that Vatan was part of the first step review, because although he has a medical degree, he did not have a license.
“Full Measure” airs Sunday on Sinclair stations nationwide and is streamed live on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. ET at www.fullmeasure.news.