The Indianapolis Star reported on Monday that it had obtained emails from an employee at the Indianapolis VA hospital who mocked returning combat veterans who were facing mental health issues and committed suicide. On Monday night, both the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley and NBC Nightly News failed to cover this story.
In contrast, ABC’s World News Tonight offered a full, one-minute-and-33-second segment on the story that anchor David Muir described as “stunning” and involved “[a] manager now accused of making fun of the very veterans she and her team were supposed to be helping when they returned from war.”
While ABC News correspondent Clayton Sandell did not mention the recent news surrounding current VA Secretary Robert McDonald lying about his military record, Sandell linked this latest controversy to the scandal-ridden cabinet department:
The photos surface as the VA itself estimates 22 military veterans commit suicide every day. Critics say it's another black mark on an agency mired in scandal, accused of hiding unacceptably long wait times for patient care. That cost the VA Secretary his job.
According to a Star article:
A manager at the Roudebush Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Indianapolis appears to mock the mental health problems of returning combat veterans in an email to her employees.
The email obtained by The Indianapolis Star contains photographs of a toy Christmas elf posing as a patient in what appears to be the hospital's transitional clinic for returning veterans. In one photograph, the elf pleads for Xanax. In another, he hangs himself with an electrical cord.
The woman who sent the email is Robin Paul, a licensed social worker who manages the hospital's Seamless Transition Integrated Care Clinic. The clinic provides returning veterans with transition assistance, including mental health and readjustment services.
Commenting on the matter through a hospital spokeswoman, Paul said that she “would like to sincerely apologize for the email message and I take full responsibility for this poor judgment” after having “put my heart and soul into my work with Veterans for many years.” Paul went on to add that she’s “deeply remorseful for any hurt this may have caused.”
The spokeswoman would not comment on whether Paul had been fired or not and only described the matter as “administratively addressed” and in the words of the Star article, “declined to provide specifics, citing employee confidentiality.”
What the Star found, however, was that Paul was still “employed at the hospital and continues to manage the clinic, earning an annual salary of $79,916” after having “received a $2,000 performance bonus in 2013.”
While its evening newscast failed to cover this story, CBSNews.com posted an article late Monday afternoon on the disturbing emails.
The full transcript of the segment that aired on ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir on March 9 can be found below.
ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir
March 9, 2015
6:39 p.m. Eastern
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Veterans Mocked?]
DAVID MUIR: And next, to the stunning emails uncovered at a VA hospital in Indianapolis. A manager now accused of making fun of the very veterans she and her team were supposed to be helping when they returned from war. Here's ABC's Clayton Sandell.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: V.A. Email Controversy; Veterans Mocked for Mental Health Problems?]
CLAYTON SANDELL: In a December email obtained by The Indianapolis Star, Robin Paul, a manager at the VA's transitional clinic for returning veterans, sent her staff these pictures. In this one, a toy elf pleads for Xanax, used to treat anxiety and panic. The caption says the elf is “self-medicating for mental health issues” because he couldn't get a prescription. Then there is this. The elf appears to hang himself in an electrical cord. “Caught in the act of suicidal behavior,” says the caption. The photos surface as the VA itself estimates 22 military veterans commit suicide every day. Critics say it's another black mark on an agency mired in scandal, accused of hiding unacceptably long wait times for patient care. That cost the VA Secretary his job.
VFW DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS JOE DAVID: All we want is for the VA is to be able to fix what's broken, to hold employees appropriately accountable and help restore the faith of veterans in their VA healthcare system, and this one employee, this one supervisor violated all three of those.
SANDELL: Paul said, ”I take full responsibility for this poor judgment. I have put my heart and soul into my work with veterans for many years.” The VA won't say if Paul has been fired, only saying the matter has been handled. Clayton Sandell, ABC News, Denver.
MUIR: Clayton, thank you.