Nation roundup for July 22
Report: Retaliation by supes common at VA
WASHINGTON (AP) — A pharmacy supervisor at the VA was placed on leave after complaining about errors and delays in delivering medications to patients at a hospital in Palo Alto, California. In Pennsylvania, a doctor was removed from clinical work after complaining that on-call doctors were refusing to go to a VA hospital in Wilkes-Barre.
Medical professionals from coast to coast have pointed out problems at the VA, only to suffer retaliation from supervisors and other high-ranking officials, according to a report Monday by a private government watchdog.
The report compiled by the Project on Government Oversight, a group that conducts its own investigations and works with whistleblowers, is based on comments and complaints filed by nearly 800 current and former VA employees and veterans. Those comments indicate that concerns about the VA go far beyond the long waiting times or falsified appointment records that have received much recent attention, extending to the quality of health care services veterans receive, the report said.
The group set up a website in mid-May for complaints and said it has received allegations of wrongdoing from 35 states and the District of Columbia.
“A recurring and fundamental theme has become clear: VA employees across the country fear they will face repercussions if they dare to raise a dissenting voice,” said Danielle Brian, the group’s executive director. “Until we eliminate the culture of intimidation and climate of fear, no reforms will be able to turn this broken agency around.”
The report from the group, known as POGO, came a day before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee was to hold a hearing on the nomination of Robert McDonald to be VA secretary. If confirmed by the Senate, McDonald would replace acting Secretary Sloan Gibson.
Hopkins pays $190M over pelvis exam pics
BALTIMORE (AP) — A “rogue” gynecologist who used tiny cameras to secretly record videos and photos of his patients has forced one of the world’s top medical centers to pay $190 million to 8,000 women and girls.
Dr. Nikita Levy was fired after 25 years with the Johns Hopkins Health System in Baltimore in February 2013 after a female co-worker spotted the pen-like camera he wore around his neck and alerted authorities.
Levy committed suicide days later, as a federal investigation led to roughly 1,200 videos and 140 images stored on computers in his home.
“All of these women were brutalized by this,” said their lead attorney, Jonathan Schochor. “Some of these women needed counseling, they were sleepless, they were dysfunctional in the workplace, they were dysfunctional at home, they were dysfunctional with their mates. This breach of trust, this betrayal — this is how they felt.”
The preliminary settlement approved by a judge Monday is one of the largest on record in the U.S. involving sexual misconduct by a physician. It all but closes a case that never produced criminal charges but seriously threatened Hopkins’ reputation. Lawyers said thousands of women were traumatized, even though their faces were not visible in the images.
Friend guilty of helping Boston bomb suspect
BOSTON (AP) — A college friend was convicted Monday of trying to protect Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev by agreeing with another friend to get rid of a backpack and disabled fireworks they took from his dorm room three days after the attack.
Azamat Tazhayakov, a baby-faced 20-year-old, put his hands over his face and shook his head as guilty verdicts were read on federal charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy in the first trial stemming from the twin bombings, which killed three and injured more than 260 near the marathon’s finish line in April 2013. His mother sobbed loudly and rocked in her seat.
The jury found that Tazhayakov conspired with friend Dias Kadyrbayev to take from Tsarnaev’s room a backpack containing fireworks that had been emptied of their explosive powder.
Prosecutors said the explosive powder could have been used to make bombs. The backpack and fireworks were later recovered from a landfill.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers both told the jury it was Kadyrbayev who actually threw the items away, but prosecutors said Tazhayakov agreed with the plan and was an active participant.
Juror Daniel Antonino, 49, said the panel heavily debated the charges but in the end believed Tazhayakov had impeded the investigation.
“They took materials from that room that they never should have touched, and that’s what he is going to pay the price for,” Antonino said.
Tazhayakov faces a maximum 20-year prison sentence for obstruction and a five-year maximum for conspiracy at sentencing, which was scheduled for Oct. 16. The verdicts came less than three years after he arrived in the U.S. from his native Kazakhstan, hoping to get an engineering degree at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.
Prosecutors said Tazhayakov quickly became friends with Kadyrbayev, who was also from Kazakhstan, and the two also became friendly with Tsarnaev who, like them, spoke Russian. Tsarnaev, who lived in Kyrgyzstan and Russia, had come to the U.S. as a child with his family. He turns 21 on Tuesday.
The three men often hung out together, in Tsarnaev’s dorm room or at the off-campus apartment Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev shared. Friends testified that the three men enjoyed playing video games and smoking marijuana.
During the trial, prosecutors showed jurors video of Tazhayakov at the university gym with Tsarnaev the day after the bombings. Both appeared relaxed. Tazhayakov’s lawyers said the footage showed their client had no idea Tsarnaev was involved in the bombings until days later, when the FBI released photos of him and his brother, Tamerlan, as suspects.
Tazhayakov’s lawyers argued that it was Kadyrbayev who removed the items from Tsarnaev’s dorm room and then threw them away. Kadyrbayev faces a separate trial in September. A third friend, Robel Phillipos, is charged with lying to investigators and is also scheduled for trial in September.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev escaped but was soon found, wounded and hiding in a boat dry-docked in a backyard in suburban Watertown.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled for trial in November. He faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted.
Defense attorney Matthew Myers called the Tazhayakov verdict “somewhat surprising” and said it was difficult to try the case in Boston, where emotions run high over the bombings. He said he believes jurors felt a “certain pressure” to find his client guilty.
“We understand what this town has been through. … It’s hard to overcome that bias,” Myers said.
Myers said lawyers will appeal the verdict, at least in part on a verdict form that asked jurors to decide whether Tazhayakov obstructed justice and conspired to obstruct justice on both a laptop computer that was taken from Tsarnaev’s room and the backpack containing fireworks.
The jury found Tazhayakov not guilty of participating in the plan to take the laptop, but guilty on the plan to take the backpack and fireworks. They had to find him guilty of only one of them to convict him of the charge.
“We think it may have distracted the jury,” Myers said of the verdict form.
FBI agents testified during the trial that Tazhayakov told them he and Kadyrbayev decided to take the backpack, fireworks an
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