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Hibbing VA Clinic Under Fire, Rep. Nolan to Meet With Accusers

Emily Haavik
ehaavik@wdio.com

November 17, 2014 10:38 PM

Six former employees are making some serious allegations about the Hibbing VA Clinic, and now a Minnesota congressman has agreed to meet with them.

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Bobbi Jo VonAlman, a former clerk for the Hibbing VA Clinic, says she and five other employees gave up the jobs they loved, because they were being asked to falsify records.

As first reported in the Star Tribune, VonAlman and the other ex-employees said the orders came from Sterling Medical Associates, the private company that operates the clinic. The employees said they were told to backdate records to make it look like veterans were getting appointments within two weeks, when in fact it could take six to eight weeks.

On Tuesday, a Sterling representative directed questions to the VA.

Ralph Heussner, Public Affairs Officer with the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System, said that the claim was investigated back in June.

"They found the claim to be unsubstantiated," he said.

The former employees bringing the allegations sent a statement to Eyewitness News on Tuesday.

"It is unfortunate that our concerns were not acknowledged by either Sterling Medical Associates or the VA," VonAlman wrote on behalf of all six former employees. "They chose to ignore the situation despite our protests and alerts. ... The VA sent officials to visit the clinic but did not provide a confidential environment or privacy for staff at any time. We were always watched by Sterling Medical Associates management."

Heussner refuted that in an interview on Tuesday.

"VA leadership visits the clinic every month and speaks privately with employees without the presence of anyone from Sterling," he said.

While some people are frustrated with the Hibbing Clinic, one veteran is more frustrated with the accusations.

"I think it's a lot of unnecessary crying and whining," said Dave Winger, a Vietnam veteran.

Winger was at the Hibbing VA Clinic on Tuesday for his physical. He said he heard about the allegations on the news Monday night.

"I tell you, I cannot complain whatsoever," he said. "The service is excellent in there. In fact, I like it better than civilian services."

Winger said his physical was scheduled three or four months ahead of time, but when he has a problem, it only takes about a week to get an appointment.

The former employees are now asking for a meeting with Rep. Rick Nolan, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Al Franken, and VA Secretary Robert McDonald.

Rep. Nolan's office told Eyewitness News that the congressman will meet with the former employees at the earliest possible date. Nolan's communications director said he hopes to include state Sen. Dave Tomassoni in that session.

Sen. Klobuchar said in a statement, "These are serious allegations that need to be investigated. I will be meeting with the VA Secretary tomorrow to talk about this issue as well as how we can reform the VA system to ensure veterans are getting the timely, high-quality care they deserve."

A spokesperson for Sen. Franken's also reacted to the news on Monday night. 

"Senator Franken is very troubled by reports of improper scheduling practices at the Hibbing clinic," Michael Dale-Stein wrote in an e-mail. "He will be seeking to make sure that the allegations are appropriately investigated."


Credits

Emily Haavik
ehaavik@wdio.com

Copyright 2016 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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