Providence VA Medical Center is focus of federal investigation

The Providence VA Medical Center on Chalkstone Avenue in Providence.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Office of Inspector General were at the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center to conduct an investigation, Target 12 has learned.

The Providence VAMC system serves about 35,000 veterans a year, with an annual budget of approximately $231 million. A source told Target 12, federal investigators came to the Chalkstone Avenue hospital on a Monday morning, and VA Public Affairs Officer Winfield Danielson confirmed that.

“We can confirm that members of the OIG and the FBI visited the Providence VA Medical Center March 23, 2015, and questioned a member of our staff,” Danielson said.

He did not answer questions about the focus of the investigation, or confirm reports given to Target 12 about what the feds are investigating.

“This is an open investigation,” said Danielson. “In order to preserve the integrity of that investigation, we cannot provide any more details at this time.”

Danielson said the Providence VA will cooperate fully with the investigation. The FBI would not comment on the investigation and phone calls to the Office of Inspector General have not been returned.

Last year, a scandal was uncovered in the Phoenix Arizona VA system where Federal investigators identified 35 veterans who died while waiting for appointments. The investigation revealed the hospital had a system of secret waiting lists that influenced statistics about how long it took for Phoenix area veterans to get medical appointments. The Arizona scandal led to investigations at VA facilities across the country, and VA Director Eric Shinseki resigned last May.

As the Arizona investigation unfolded, the Providence VA conducted an internal audit and outside investigators looked into the facility as well, but we were told both audits gave the local VA “a clean bill of health.”

The Providence VAMC was the subject of an OIG investigation released on December 17, 2012, that found among other things, Providence VA credit “cardholders made inappropriate purchases totaling $4,444” to help pay for a summer picnic and a holiday tea party.

Another allegation came from VAMC employees who “believed they became ill” from water leaking from the walls of their offices. The review made several recommendations including improving oversight within the Providence system.

The 2012 OIG review was prompted by a call to the agency’s hotline, and it “partially or fully substantiated  7 of the 11 allegations made by the complainant.”

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau

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