VA: Hospital Head Abused Travel, Purged Files
"Washington Watchdogs," a periodic feature of the Post's Investigations blog, looks at the findings of the federal government's official investigators.
A Veterans Affairs hospital director has been disciplined after department investigators found that he had improperly influenced a hiring decision, overcharged for travel, made personal calls on his Blackberry and destroyed his computer hard drive while he was under investigation.
Dr. Robert W. Ratliff, the former director of the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System, could not be reached for comment today. Staff at the Birmingham hospital said Ratliff no longer worked as director at the facility, where he was employed as recently as last month. Jeffrey Hester, a spokesman for the Birmingham hospital, said he was unsure if Ratliff was still employed by Veterans Affairs.
Ratliff had previously run government medical centers in Orlando, Daytona, Fla., Canandaigua, N.Y., and central Texas, according to his online biography.
The most serious allegations in the report from the VA's inspector general are that Ratliff and Shirley Bealer, the acting director of the Central Alabama health care system, obstructed the government investigation by destroying potentially incriminating computer files and telling employees to provide them with confidential information from investigators.
In April, while the inspector general was investigating his spending habits, Ratliff told another employee that he wanted to have a "spring cleaning" of his hard drive, according to the inspector general's report.
"The thought never occurred to me until my recent issues...So now that I am truly paranoid I am going on a regular scheduled hard drive erasure," he wrote in an e-mail.
Ratliff told investigators that he did not erase the hard drive to hide evidence of misconduct but rather wanted "to avoid just what we are doing right now; to avoid somebody coming in and going through all this stuff; looking at every little thing; and asking you to explain every little thing you did."
Investigators called the Ratliff's action "completely intolerable and unacceptable."
As the investigation continued, Ratliff's co-worker, Bealer, sent employees an e-mail asking what questions investigators asked. She admitted to sending the e-mail, saying that she was "being nosy and wanted to know if there were any other issues."
Investigators also found that Ratliff misspent government funds on trips to properties he owned near Nashville, Tenn.; Jackson, Miss.; and Birmingham, Ala.; and that he made thousands of personal phone calls on a hospital-only Blackberry.
The Veterans Affairs Department concurred with the report's findings and indicated it would finish all of its disciplinary action against Ratliff by November.
The report by the VA's inspector general's office was released this week after a Freedom of Information Act request was filed by The Post's Investigations blog.
By Derek Kravitz |
October 10, 2008; 3:11 PM ET
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