The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

VA social worker who appeared to mock veteran suicides has resigned

The seal of the Department of Veterans Affairs is seen on the building in Washington. (Charles Dharapak/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

A social worker at a Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Indianapolis who sent an e-mail that appears to poke fun at veterans’ mental health problems, including suicide, has resigned, according to the Indianapolis Star.

The e-mail by Robin Paul, who was a manager at the Indianapolis hospital’s transitional clinic for returning veterans, showed a combat veteran as a Christmas elf ready to hang himself with holiday lights and another begging for a hit of Xanax.

Paul submitted her resignation last week. She said she and her family have been subjected to “harassment and hostility” as a result of the e-mail’s publication.

“Even though I have had an excellent work history with the VA, my career with the VA is effectively over as a result of this incident and the resulting public and political pressure,” she said in a statement provided through her attorney, Barclay Wong.

Paul told the paper that the e-mail was taken out of context, but she also apologized for it and said she “used poor judgment in sending it out.”

When first asked about the e-mail, Paul responded, “Oh, my goodness.” She then referred a reporter to the hospital’s public affairs department, which e-mailed the Star a statement for her:

The Dec. 18 e-mail was obtained by the Star. It shows a toy Christmas elf posing as a patient in what appears to be the hospital’s transitional clinic — called the Seamless Transition Integrated Care Clinic — for former troops.

“I would like to sincerely apologize for the email message and I take full responsibility for this poor judgment,” Paul said. “I have put my heart and soul into my work with Veterans for many years.”

The e-mail was sent to the “IND STICC Team” with the subject, “Naught [sic] Elf in the STICC clinic.”

One photo depicts the elf looking between the legs of a female doll. “Trying his skills as a primary care provider (doing a pap),” the e-mail says.

Another shows the elf and a note with the words, “Out of XANAX — please help!” A caption says, “Self-medicating for mental health issues when a CNS would not give him his requested script.”

A third photograph of the suicidal vet has a caption that says, “Caught in the act of suicidal behavior (trying to hang himself from an electrical cord).”

The e-mail provoked national outrage.  And it comes at a time when VA says that veterans who take their own lives is a crisis that happens 22 times a day.

Veterans of Foreign Wars and some members of Congress called for her removal.

“We can only hope that the other 350,000 VA employees completely understand the wake-up call that comes from this unfortunate yet preventable incident — that veterans are the only reason your federal department exists, which means serving them must be a 100 percent, all in commitment by every employee, every day,”  Joe Davis, a spokesman for the VFW, told the Star.

Loading...