The Hospital on the Hill

A mean-spirited VA medical center director has patient care playing distant second to the bottom line

The IG report again called for Roswell to take "appropriate administrative action" against Seiler.

Investigators also found that management had violated federal regulations by underreporting many of the 166 workplace injuries during 18 months in 1999 and 2000. If the medical center had followed proper procedure, it would have submitted medical bills for those employees to the U.S. Department of Labor, which in turn would reimburse the medical center for costs related to worker's comp claims. In other words, the hospital forfeited those reimbursements, which ultimately could have been used to fund treatment of veterans at the cash-strapped hospital.

Seiler told investigators that the reporting requirements, to his knowledge, were being met. But another manager, whose name was also redacted, testified that he, Seiler, and a third manager decided not to bill the labor department because "it would reflect unfavorably on the facility's occupational safety statistical measures." While investigators couldn't conclusively determine Seiler's role in these decisions, the report concluded: "It was his responsibility as the director to know what the medical center's practices were and take steps to correct them, if necessary." The report again called for Roswell to take action against Seiler.

Mark Poutenis
Mark Poutenis

Roswell never took any disciplinary action against Seiler. Lang says she was dumbfounded when union members continued to complain about the same problems. She filed a complaint with the IG's Office in October 2001, and not until January 2003 did the agency inform her that the investigation was complete. Her request for a copy through the Freedom of Information Act was denied by the agency, which said the report wouldn't be closed until the Veterans Health Administration "provides actions to implement the recommendations." Lang's further inquiries were eventually met with the response that, inexplicably, no such report existed. "It vaporized," she sighs.

A likely assumption is that no actions could be agreed upon between the IG's Office and VA management. (New Times filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the agency asking for copies of all investigations and audits of the West Palm hospital. There was no reference to this report among those we received.)

Bent but not broken, Lang filed yet another complaint to the IG's Office in March 2003, offering new examples of mishandled worker's comp claims. As it turned out, Liftman had also submitted two cases, as had the office of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. This time, a team arrived not from the IG's Office but from the Florida regional headquarters in St. Petersburg. Roswell was no longer in charge there since his March 2002 promotion to undersecretary for health for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C., but he still remained in the chain of authority over Florida's VA hospitals. The Administrative Investigation Board found that the medical center had correctly handled only three of the 11 cases involved. But the final report was more an exercise in Dilbertian futility than a rigorous call for rectification. Lang finally received the undated report this June, and, like a road map to nowhere, it contained absolutely no recommendations.

Seiler remains close-mouthed about the problems. "Whenever I tell him about these things, he denies it," Lang says. "When I confront him with a problem, he denies it."

Liftman hasn't had much luck with the director either. Asked if he ever gets face-to-face time with Seiler to discuss problems at the medical center, Liftman laughs raucously. "That's a good one!" he hoots.

New Times tried to meet Seiler by showing up unannounced at a gathering of employees at the hospital in late August. Seiler appeared in the small meeting room a few minutes before noon. He wore a light-tan suit over his small frame. His skin was ghostly pale.

Several minutes later, a plainclothes investigator with the hospital's police department marched New Times out of the meeting room and off hospital property.

Seiler and his underlings seem to have no qualms about disregarding VA policy and federal regulations when it comes to favors for friends and family. In some cases, veterans end up getting the short end of the stick because of cronyism.

For example, the IG's Office blasted Seiler for improperly promoting Diana Dilkes, an administrative assistant in his office, to the position of equal employment opportunity (EEO) program specialist. Many employees were disturbed by the promotion, which had not been competitively posted, because the EEO complaint process is one of the few avenues available to workers who believe they've been treated unfairly. Some feared that Dilkes would be too beholden to Seiler to act as a gatekeeper for such complaints. As a result of the IG report, the position was reposted. In the end, Dilkes was still given the job.

One long-time pharmacy employee explains how the administration has become adept at following the letter of the law for posting jobs while circumventing the spirit in order to promote the favored.

"When a new position is open, it's supposed to be open to everybody," he explains in the world-weary tone of a man who knows his future holds no job advancement at the VA. "The name of the game with these guys is that they post it for a day, take it off, and no one's aware of it. After it closes, then they say, 'Hey did you know there was a position open that's a grade higher? Oh, it just closed yesterday.' Then someone ends up getting the position who's a friend of [upper management] or Seiler."

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My Voice Nation Help

Seiler did the same thing at the Huntington VA. Total disregard of staff, veterans except those on his close pal list.