The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating allegations of illegal employment practices at VA Connecticut Healthcare System connected to the hiring of seven employees—some in top management positions—who are all former co-workers of the system’s director. A separate complaint filed by a whistleblower to the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs alleges “gross misconduct” in the hiring of staff from the Manchester (New Hampshire) VA Medical Center. It says that “all management positions were pre-selected.”
“VA Connecticut is in turmoil,” wrote the whistleblower in an anonymous complaint filed in August and obtained by C-HIT. The complaints have put a spotlight on the management of Alfred A. Montoya Jr., who has been head of the West Haven VA for almost a year. Montoya was brought in from the Manchester (New Hampshire) VA Medical Center after years of upheaval in the delivery of health care at the West Haven VA, where surgeries were outsourced to Yale New Haven Hospital after deficiencies were found in sterile procedures.
The top diagnosis of women veterans treated in the VA Connecticut Healthcare System is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and it is usually accompanied by other mental health illnesses, according to VA officials. Most women veterans suffer from a mental illness, studies show, and the VA is taking steps to focus more on female-specific mental health care. A national study commissioned by the VA, Barriers to Care for Women Veterans, found that 52 percent of women veterans said they needed mental health care, but only 24 percent sought treatment. A survey by the nonprofit Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) showed that women veterans consider mental health to be their biggest challenge. At Connecticut VA facilities, 1,404 women had at least one mental health visit last year, representing 45 percent of women who use the VA.
Robert Hunter was raped in the Navy when he was 19, a memory he repressed for 32 years. When the memory returned, he drank heavily and endured mental health problems.
After receiving help from the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, he decided to build “something good from something horrible” and bring attention to men who are sexually assaulted in the military. The Connecticut veteran co-founded a national advocacy group called Men Recovering from Military Sexual Trauma (Mr. MST) because, he said, “male victims aren’t taken seriously.”
Hunter’s organization has spent the last three years raising awareness and lobbying for health care for military victims of sexual assault, meeting with top government decision makers, participating in White House policy discussions, speaking at events for military sexual assault victims and joining women survivors in advocating for removing the prosecution of military sexual assault from the chain of command. In the military, where men comprise 85 percent of the population, more men than women are sexually assaulted. The most recent Pentagon estimates show 10,600 men and 9,600 women were assaulted in 2014, representing 1 percent of active duty men and 4.9 percent of women.