VA supervisor at center of email controversy removed from position; email called ‘unacceptable’

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INDIANAPOLIS (March 10, 2015) - The supervisor at the Roudebush Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Indianapolis, who sent an internal email appearing to mock veteran suicides, was placed on administrative leave Tuesday.

Robin Paul, who managed the Transition Clinic, will continue being paid as the investigation is ongoing, but has been removed from her position, a statement said.

“The email message that was sent out by Ms. Paul is completely and totally unacceptable,” Tom Mattice said, director of the Roudebush Veterans Affairs Medical Center. “It in no way reflects the attitudes of our staff toward our patients.”

Paul sent an email to her staff in December that mocked services received by veterans returning with disabilities. The email featured a Christmas elf, appearing as a clinic patient, mocking antidepressants and suicide. The email was originally obtained by our media partners at the IndyStar.

Still many are questioning why it took VA officials so long to act.

"This inappropriate email needs to be taken very seriously,” Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN) said in a statement. "An immediate independent investigation should occur to determine proper disciplinary action."

On Monday, VA officials said the issue was handled administratively.

But 24 hours later they took further action, as the outrage continued to grow from Indianapolis to Capitol Hill.

“I think it’s reprehensible,” Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) said. “And there’s no excuse given the amount of public embarrassment and public outrage over some of the things that have been happening with the VA.”

Walorski sits on the House Veterans Affairs committee and has spent months working on the issues plaguing the VA.

“Then you see a reprehensible story like this,” she said. “And in my mind, there is no question whatsoever that employee should be fired.”

Tuesday afternoon, the national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars demanded Paul be immediately removed.

“There is nothing amusing about 22 veterans committing suicide every day,” John W. Stroud said in a statement. “And it is absolutely inexcusable that a VA supervisor would make light of any issue that veterans face.

Veterans advocates across Indiana say they are just as appalled.

“In our world, there’s a joke that it actually takes an act of Congress to get rid of a VA employee,” Lisa Wilken said, the women’s liaison for AMVETS. “"We have a lot of employees at the VA's across the country, and right here in Indianapolis, that do not deserve to be taking care of our veterans, and this employee is an example of one."

Kent Morgan, representing disabled veterans in Indiana, is glad VA administrators are investigating further.

“At first glance it looks pretty bad,” he said. “But again, we want to know everything.”

VA officials wouldn’t say how long the investigation will take and if all the results will be made public.

“I ask Veterans to accept my apology for this failure,” Mattice said. “And to allow us to continue to demonstrate to you our commitment to your health and well-being.”

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