12 OYS: Charlie Norwood VA official resigns; remains on payroll, says source

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News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, March 12, 2014

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- A new revelation is coming out of Augusta's Charlie Norwood VA Hospital.

It comes in the midst of an ongoing Congressional investigation into three deaths at the facility due to what has been called a lack of proper medical care.

News 12 has confirmed that after being threatened with disciplinary action following those deaths a top official stepped down but is still getting paid.

There is a question on the mind of retired Air Force Veteran Richard Johnson. "Why is he still being paid," Johnson said.

He is talking about former Chief of Staff Luke Stapleton who resigned from his post last year at Charlie Norwood VA Hospital after being threatened with disciplinary action following the deaths of three veterans.

But according to the Veterans Administration in Washington, D.C., he is still on payroll. According to a federal database, his former position paid more than $278,000 per year.

"If he's resigned, what's he still on the payroll for," said Johnson. But neither the hospital nor the Veteran's Administration is answering that question. However in a statement to News 12 the agency said:

"VA is committed to providing the best quality, safe and effective health care our Veterans have earned and deserve. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is reviewing administrative actions for Augusta VA Medical Center. The Augusta Chief of Staff voluntarily resigned from the position on March 10, 2013. As of March 10, 2014, no SES official at Augusta has had administrative action taken."

Johnson said he believes if the deaths occurred at a private facility the outcome would be different.

"They'd go after them, they don't say well we can't do nothing now because they resigned or they've retired," Johnson said.

During a congressional hearing last month, VA Undersecretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel when asked about holding officials accountable for deaths at the VA responded saying: "If somebody wishes to retire or resign, we cannot prevent that from happening."

A source in Washington, D.C. tells News 12 that Representative Jeff Miller, Chair of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs responded saying:

"VA clearly has a lot of explaining to do, especially in light of the fact that VA Under Secretary for Health Robert Petzel stated during a Feb. 26 House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Hearing that 'a number of people have either retired or resigned...as a result of the three veteran deaths due to delays in care at the Augusta VA Medical Center. If you asked 100 people to interpret the word 'resign,' 99 would likely tell you that someone who 'resigned' from an organization no longer works there. Since VA has confirmed that Dr. Luke Stapleton still works for the Augusta VAMC and no other senior executives have faced administrative action for the deaths at the facility, it's now up to Dr. Petzel to set the record straight. Veterans in Augusta and members of Congress deserve to hear the full truth about what VA is doing to hold its employees accountable when patients fall through the cracks - not carefully crafted statements that split semantic hairs in an apparent attempt to obscure the facts."

"They do have to be reminded who they're working for because if it wasn't for the veterans they wouldn't need or have a job," Johnson said.

Meanwhile according to a federal database, Luke Stapleton earned $278,000 in his former position. It is unclear whether he is still making that salary. News 12 reached out to the hospital for comment, but unfortunately like numerous instances in the past it has not responded.

Meanwhile the American Legion's Veteran's Affairs Division is wrapping up a three day site visit there. It is expected to take its findings to Congress and the White House.

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