Doctor Robert Van Boven said it started as a golden opportunity when the local Veterans Affairs hired him to run its brain injury center in Austin in 2007. The Brain Imaging and Recovery Laboratory was a program of the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System, part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, BIRL was stationed at the University of Texas’ J.J. Pickle Research Campus.
Van Boven said the center was granted about $10 million for research of traumatic brain injuries.
“I was enthused, and I thought this was too good to be true,” Van Boven said. “Well, turns out, it was.”
Soon after he was hired, he said he noticed something was wrong.
“$2.1 million had already been spent in two previous years with no scientists, no research, and no protocols,” Van Boven said.
Van Boven alleged mismanagement, wasteful spending and fraud. He also claimed his bosses turned their backs and then slowly stripped away his authority.
“The phrase that was commonly brought up to me by others in this matter ‘You have to get along, to go along,'” Van Boven said.
Van Boven turned into a full-blown whistle-blower. He took his concerns higher up the ladder and above his bosses’ heads.
The Veterans Affairs Office for Inspector General launched an investigation. Van Boven says it back-fired even though findings supported most all of his allegations.
“One was that the contractor that I was arguing was billing fraudulently perhaps one day a week, but was billing for five days a week for more than 1 year,” Van Boven said.
The IG reported after the investigation that:
“As previously noted, in the absence of a valid contract, we could not determine if the
consultant’s billings were excessive for the work product produced on days other than
Thursdays when the consultant was not in the BIRL. Also, the consultant should not
have withheld written work from the complainant. Overall, however, we concluded that
the consultant’s billing practices in the absence of a clear contract and the consultant’s
behavior in withholding a written document did not reach the level of fraud.”
Van Boven said the VA then dismissed him.
“I end up running into a behemoth of an organization that didn’t appreciate this kind of uncovering,” Van Boven said.
Controversy continues to consume VA clinics across the country and in Central Texas. There have been allegations of deception and cover-ups.
Van Boven said better oversight and audits need to be part of the solution. He said he thinks there needs to be more outside watchdogs.
“If we had more external reviewers with teeth then folks would shape-up,” Van Boven said.
Van Boven said when people are conspiring together people cannot speak-up, and veterans can’t get the help they deserve.
By Cassie GalloFormer VA Doctor Criticizes VA