(CNSNews.com) – Sen. Jerry Moran, (R-KS) chastised Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald for “one of the worst examples of lack of accountability at the VA” in a case involving the alleged sexual abuse of veterans at the VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System in 2014.
“We face one of the worst examples, in my view, of lack of accountability at the VA with the case of a physician assistant who abused Kansas veterans at the Leavenworth VA hospital, and potentially other veterans at other facilities within our state,” Moran told McDonald last week during a hearing of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
“He’s been criminally charged with multiple counts of sexual assault and abuse on numerous veterans who sought his care and his counsel,” Moran continued. “He had a criminal record, admitted on his application for state licensure when he was hired. The VA hired him anyway.
“And clearly, he should never have been hired and should never have been retained as an employee of the VA,” Moran stated.
The former VA employee, Mark Wisner, has been charged with aggravated sexual battery and three misdemeanors for allegedly conducting “unnecessary and improper genital examinations” of at least seven patients at the VA hospital. A trial date was set for October 31 in Leavenworth County District Court.
McDonald responded by stating that “accusations of sexual assault and molestation are unacceptable,” and said that he personally traveled to Leavenworth to investigate the accusations.
“We need to get together and compare our data because what I understand from my visit and the documents I reviewed is when... there was an accusation of this individual’s potential of having done this, we immediately removed him from caring for patients,” McDonald testified.
“We immediately started the procedure to do an investigation and to fire him. He resigned, and we went back and we looked at our hiring process, and what I was told at the time, and again you’ve got different data so I’ve gotta find out why I didn’t see the data you may have or where you got your data. There was nothing in his file that suggested that this was a risk, that this occurred. So obviously you’ve got different data than I have.
“Because this is not something we would tolerate, and obviously if this showed up in a person’s hiring process we would not hire them,” McDonald testified.
The VA Secretary also stated that Wisner resigned while the investigation was still being conducted.
“Are you telling me that when someone resigns you lose your ability to fire them? So are you telling me that he beat you to the punch?” Moran asked.
“When somebody resigns they’re no longer an employee,” McDonald responded. “That’s true in the private sector or the public sector. If someone resigns, they’ve resigned.”
The exchange took place after Sen. Moran sent McDonald a letter on September 6th requesting more information on the VA’s standards regarding employee hiring and firing.
“Recent reports and evidence of Mr. Wisner’s medical credentials show that he admitted he was convicted of a crime when applying for his state licensure,” the letter stated. “It is unclear whether the VA investigated Mr. Wisner’s criminal record as part of his application process and hiring by the VA.”
According to a statement released by the VA to KSHB-TV in Kansas City, criminal charges were filed against Wisner after the VA investigated the allegations of sexual abuse.
The statement added that “all VA employees are required to undergo a background investigation commensurate with their position’s risk level,” but “there were no reports or disclosures” in Wisner’s case “that would have indicated a potential problem.”
“It is extremely troubling that a criminal can admit to having committed a crime and yet be hired for a position where veterans are under his or her care,” Moran wrote, adding that according to the VA Office of the Inspector General, the former physician assistant also "‘admitted that he crossed the professional line…and that he knew that what he was doing to these patients was wrong and that he had no self-control’.”
The letter requested that McDonald explain “why Mr. Wisner received approval for voluntary retirement effective June 28, 2014, versus termination from the VA for his misconduct against veterans for which he admitted. Who is responsible for approving his request?”
“The agency created to serve and take care of veterans employed a criminal who took advantage of veterans who sought his medical assistance,” the letter continued.
At the hearing, Sen. Moran pressed the VA Secretary to respond to his letter “in writing so that we can see your response and we can have a conversation again.”
He also asked McDonald to use this case “as a learning experience. Not only to help prosecute so that we can send the message to veterans about how careful we are, but again, in my view, [it] goes back to [the VA’s] hiring practices and discharge procedure.”