Veterans Administration has stopped the forced transfers of two San Diego staffers who claimed their VA hospital gave preferential, freebie cosmetic surgery -- from hair transplants and face-lifts to vasectomies -- to unauthorized patients.
The two workers -- Robert J. Tariela and Ira J. Meiselman -- had complained through the hospital chain-of-command that the operations were preformed for non-service-connected cosmetic reasons, and that time-worked records had been falsified for some staff members.
Tariela and Meiselman also said that some VA hospital employes were getting free services, lab tests and medical checks, in violation of VA rules. VA officials said a number of the problems spotlighted by the two employes were due to misunderstanding of VA rules, misunderstandings that have been corrected in San Diego.
VA investigators originally said that the two men, who headed the medical administration service, were unable to work with other staffers and ordered them transferred to VA centers in Ann Arbor, Mich., and West Haven, Conn.
They steadfastly deny, however, that the transfers were reprisals for whistle-blowing.
The two went to the Office of Special Counsel of the Merit Systems Protection Board, the new agency set up by President Carter to protect federal whistle-blowers from reprisals.
VA can and does perform cosmetic surgery for service-connected injuries or disability. But the two men said that veterans who did not have service-connected disabilities had been given free hair transplants, face lifts, acne treatment, and a chin modification to make them look better or younger.
After consultations with the Office of Special Counsel the VA agreed to a settlement that canceled the proposed transfers. It said the records of the two men would not reflect their whistle-blowing activities, and the promotion that one of the VA employes claimed had been denied for punitive reasons would be "reviewed."
The case and intense congressional interest in it -- particularly from Rep.
Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) -- may flush out similar complaints from staffers in other VA hospitals around the country.