Whistle-blower says VA ignored data that could have helped suicidal, sick veterans

by John Roberts, FOXNew.com  |  published on March 14, 2013

veterans

The highest-level whistle-blower ever to come forward at the Department of Veterans Affairs is leveling accusations of serious ethical lapses, claiming an agency intentionally manipulated and suppressed data which resulted in veterans — particularly suicidal veterans — being denied critical care.

The whistle-blower, Steven Coughlin, was a senior epidemiologist at the VA and lead author on two of the biggest studies the VA has conducted on veterans of the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan wars. His claims concern the VA’s Office of Public Health.

Among a laundry list of claims that Coughlin told a House oversight committee Wednesday was that he was warned by a superior not to include data in his study that could have helped establish a link between so-called “burn pits” in Iraq and asthma and bronchitis among veterans. Such a link could put the VA on the hook for costly medical treatments.

“I was told two or three times in the second half of 2012 by my immediate supervisor not to look at data,” Coughlin told Fox News in an exclusive interview. “And I found that very uncomfortable — very unnerving.”

When Coughlin complained to his supervisor Dr. Aaron Schneiderman about the omission, Coughlin alleges that Schneiederman threatened him.

What particularly distressed Coughlin, though, was the VA’s lack of action regarding veterans who had indicated on study questionnaires that they were considering suicide. Two-thousand respondents said that they felt “they would be better off dead.” According to Coughlin, in 95 percent of those cases, the VA did nothing to follow up. While the VA says it has no evidence that any study participants subsequently committed suicide, Coughlin is certain that people did take their lives.

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