Scandal-plagued Phoenix VA hires controversial new director
by Maria Baer
Posted 11/23/15, 04:10 pm
A year and seven months after a scandal wracked the Phoenix VA Medical Center and a year after the center’s director was fired, the Department of Veterans Affairs has named a new leader.
Longtime VA employee Deborah Amdur will be taking the reins from Glenn Grippen, also a decades-long VA employee, who has served as Phoenix’s interim head since former Director Sharon Helman was placed on administrative leave in May 2014. Helman was fired in November 2014 and in May 2015 she unsuccessfully appealed that decision.
Amdur, who has a degree in social work, is coming to Phoenix from Vermont, where she formerly served as director of the VA hospital in White River Junction.
After the 2014 VA scandal broke, revealing falsified patient records and deadly long wait-times for veterans to receive care, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs launched a nationwide review of hospital wait-times and quality of care. Amdur’s hospital in White River Junction fared better than the national average, providing appointments to 98 percent of requesting veterans within 30 days.
But Amdur, who has been with the VA for 20 years, has not been immune to controversy. Earlier this year, the Washington Examiner accused her of providing false information to the U.S. Senate about a patient who suffered seizures after VA doctors at White River Junction prescribed a recalled medication in August 2009. Marine veteran Ted Stachulski requested his medical records after his seizure incident but didn’t receive them for five years, despite the VA rule to hand over all records within 20 days of request. According to the Examiner, when he finally received the records, they showed the medication he received was part of a recall initiated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2008. The FDA investigation found that particular batch of medication, manufactured by a Canadian company, was “adulterated” and possibly contained glass, insects and/or other harmful materials.
During the ordeal, Stachulski tried to sue the VA, but his case was thrown out for lack of evidence—because he still hadn’t received his medical records. He eventually reached out to Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., for help. Ayotte asked Amdur for answers, and she claimed Stachulski had received his medical records in a timely manner and that the medication he was prescribed was not part of the recall.
Amdur is adamant she was not dishonest, and she said her first priority in Phoenix will be to “regain the trust of the veterans we serve.”
But some veterans have a hard time trusting her. Dan Caldwell, legislative and political director at the activist group Concerned Veterans for America, told the Arizona Republic Amdur’s hiring is evidence of a familiar pattern in the VA system.
“When a director gets in trouble at a facility, they just move her to another,” he said.
Despite some veterans’ concerns, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said he was glad the Phoenix system had finally named a new director.
“[It] sends the message that steps are being taken to improve accountability and leadership at the Phoenix VA.
A recent WORLD investigation found wait times for veterans in Phoenix haven’t improved since 2014, and according to a New York Times report in August 2015, veterans were waiting nearly 50 percent longer nationwide.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Maria is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course.