Washington, DC—June 25, 2020....Representatives Steve Womack (AR-3), Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee, and Phil Roe, M.D. (TN-1), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, sent a letter to Robert Wilkie, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), requesting details about how VA intends to hold the former Chief Pathologist at the VA Medical Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas, accountable for the mistreatment of thousands of veterans, including 15 who died, under his care. Dr. Robert Levy recently pled guilty in Federal Court to mail fraud and involuntary manslaughter and is facing an estimated 28-year prison sentence following an investigation in which he was charged with treating veteran patients while under the influence.
"A visit to the doctor shouldn’t be more dangerous than a battlefield, and Mr. Levy failed the men and women who’ve served this nation honorably. The repeated misconduct and abuse at his hands was egregious and completely unacceptable. He took an oath to care for those who have stepped forward to defend our country and freedoms—and he betrayed that responsibility in the worst way possible. The VA must conduct a full review to ensure this never happens again. Furthermore, action should rightfully be taken to recoup any and all bonuses and retirement pay Mr. Levy has fraudulently received. I thank Ranking Member Roe for his time and attention on this matter. My fellow Arkansans and I demand full accountability and justice," said Ranking Member Womack.
"Dr. Levy repeatedly violated his oath as a physician and caused irreparable harm to the thousands of veterans who put their lives in his hands, including 15 who died following his mistreatment," said Ranking Member Roe. "It is unfathomable that he would continue to retain bonuses that were earned through misrepresentation and collect a full taxpayer funded pension while facing 28 years in prison for crimes he committed on the job. I am proud to join my friend, Ranking Member Womack, in calling on Secretary Wilkie to conduct a full accountability review to determine whether VA can recoup pension and unearned bonuses from Dr. Levy. Both of those actions are options granted to the Secretary thanks to the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which President Trump signed into law within six months of taking office to better protect veterans from those who would do them harm. Holding Dr. Levy fully accountable for the damage he has done is the only way to ensure that his actions do not taint the reputation of the thousands of hardworking VA employees who serve veterans well every day and to begin to make amends to all those who suffered under his care."
Full text of the letter can be found here and below:
The Honorable Robert Wilkie
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary Wilkie:
Robert M. Levy, M.D., the former Chief Pathologist at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas, recently pled guilty in Federal Court to one count of mail fraud and one count of involuntary manslaughter after an investigation by the VA Office of Inspector General uncovered his scheme to hide his substance use problems and the effect those problems had on the care he provided to veterans. During the time of Dr. Levy’s cover up, he misdiagnosed thousands of veteran patients with at least 15 dying under his care.
While these facts alone are troubling, more troubling is that, according to the indictment, Dr. Levy had previously reported to duty under the influence in March of 2016. While VA suspended Dr. Levy’s privileges and proposed his removal “due to unprofessional conduct related to high blood alcohol content level while on duty,” management rescinded his proposed removal and allowed Dr. Levy to return to duty after he completed an inpatient alcohol treatment program.
Medical professionals are not immune from substance use problems. We must balance our compassion for those battling substance use disorders with the fact that inappropriate substance use by medical professionals can have, as evidenced by Dr. Levy’s case, catastrophic effects on patients. The failure to properly address substance use issues puts patients at risk and degrades trust in healthcare organizations. We commend the dedicated men and women at VA who have helped to increase VA’s trust scores since 2017 to record levels.1 VA must, however, not allow individuals like Dr. Levy to undermine the trust veterans have in the VA healthcare system or the hard work of the other VA employees.
Unfortunately, for too long VA did not adequately police itself. After several high-profile employee misconduct cases, Congress passed, and President Trump signed into law, the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 (Act). Section 101 of the Act established the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) which, in relevant part, is tasked with advising the Secretary on matters of accountability and issuing recommendations and reports related to these matters. While we recognize that OAWP did not exist at the time Dr. Levy first reported to duty under the influence, it did exist when his scheme was uncovered. Therefore, we would like to know whether OAWP or any office within VA has performed an accountability review into Dr. Levy’s case. Such a review would help identify missteps, gaps in policies or training, and lessons learned so VA can avoid similar occurrences.
Finally, the Act also authorized the Secretary to recover bonuses paid to certain employees and to reduce the annuity of employees convicted of felonies that influenced the individual’s performance. Here, the indictment alleged that Dr. Levy received bonuses based in part on a misrepresentation of his error rate. Moreover, VA had employed Dr. Levy since 2005 and, given the length of his tenure and age, he may be eligible for an annuity. According to news reports, Dr. Levy faces a maximum sentence of 28 years in prison when sentenced. Therefore, we would like to know what actions VA has taken to recoup bonuses Dr. Levy received, whether Dr. Levy is eligible for an annuity, and, if so, whether VA has considered reducing his annuity.
We appreciate your commitment to accountability and we look forward to your response.
David P. Roe, M.D.
Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
Committee on the Budget
Congressman Steve Womack (AR-3) has represented Arkansas’s Third Congressional District since 2011. He serves as the Ranking Member of the House Committee on the Budget and is a member of the House Appropriations defense and transportation, housing and urban development subcommittees.