EXCLUSIVE: Kansas VA fires, smears war veteran whistleblower in attempt to cover up mishaps

Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center faces accusations of fraud, abuse, and mis-conduct by a former employee who was an Army sniper that was injured in Iraq. Photo Credit: Nathan McClure/Popular Military

When Army veteran Nathan McClure went to work at the Robert J. Dole VA hospital in 2013 he thought he’d landed a dream job. Eight months later, the VA fired him. McClure said he uncovered a long list of problems at the hospital and tried to bring them up to his supervisors.

McClure says the Dole VA keeps veterans waiting for treatment on a secret wait list, surgeons behaving badly, sloppy accounting and unsanitary surgical equipment.

According to McClure, the bosses didn’t want to hear about the problems. They told him to keep quiet and when the former Army sniper tried to blow the whistle the VA fired him and labeled him a terrorist threat.

Documents acquired by Popular Military call into question McClure’s termination and prove the VA didn’t follow proper procedure when it fired the Iraq war veteran.

McClure was in his senior year of high school on 9/11. He wanted to enlist, but his parents encouraged him to give college a shot. He did, and quickly realized it wasn’t for him. He wanted to fight the people who attacked his country.

He joined the Army, received infantry training, went to Airborne school then became a member of the prestigious 3rd United States Infantry Regiment—America’s oldest infantry unit.

The Old Guard, which is the Army’s official ceremonial unit that does not typically see combat, wasn’t enough for him so when he finished his first enlistment he rejoined and was assigned to the 2nd Battalion 16th Infantry Regiment “Rangers” at Fort Riley, Kansas. In 2007, he and his fellow soldiers of the battalion’s scout/sniper platoon deployed to Iraq during the famous “Surge” in Baghdad. An improvised explosive device ripped through McClure’s Humvee not long after. The injury ended his military career and left him in constant pain.

Nathan McClure, a decorated Army sniper, holding a M107 rifle. Photo Credit: Nathan McClure/Popular Military
Nathan McClure, a decorated Army sniper, holding a M107 rifle. Photo Credit: Nathan McClure/Popular Military

On April 16, 2015 the director of the Robert Dole VA, Francisco Vazquez called McClure’s boss–Sandra Pope. He told her McClure disrupted meetings by throwing pens and refusing to sit down. Worse, he told her that McClure had threatened to blow up a fellow employee’s car. He wanted McClure gone.

“l requested written documentation to support what Mr. Vazquez told me,” Pope testified in a written affidavit acquired by Popular Military. But Vazquez couldn’t provide the documentation because it did not exist.

McClure appealed his termination. Pope’s affidavit comes from one of those appeals. She attempted to explain to the court why she had fired McClure without proof he’d ever threatened a fellow employee.

Her answer? “Given Mr. Vazquez’s conclusion that the conduct attributed to McClure actually occurred, I immediately drove to tile Wichita VA after my conversation with Mr. Vazquez with the intent to address Mr. McClure’s misconduct.”

Pope took the director’s word for it. Vazquez had accused the veteran of making criminal threats–a serious crime that carries serious jail time. As of this writing, no formal police report has ever been filed against Nathan McClure in the state of Kansas.

In the American criminal justice system, accusations of criminal threats must be proved with evidence presented in a trial. The accused must face their accuser and stand before a jury of their peers.

At the Robert Dole VA, one man’s word is enough to end a veteran’s career. It gets worse.

McClure went to work on April 17, 2015 to find Pope and two VA police officers waiting for him. Pope fired him just after 7am and the police escorted him to his car. Strangely, April 17 was also the first time another VA employee registered a complaint against the veteran.

Laura Barton filed a “Report of Contact” about McClure the same day the VA fired him. In the report, acquired by Popular Military, she describes McClure’s conduct during a meeting a month before. “Mr. McClure behaves inappropriately in meetings,” Barton writes. “His behavior and mannerisms towards outside visitors, as well as our own staff, appears very aggressive and intimidating.”

Barton never accuses McClure threatening to hurt anyone. She never says he threatened to blow up her car. She just writes that he made her uncomfortable. McClure’s injury makes it hard for him to sit for long periods of time. McClure stood during meetings, leaned against walls and white-knuckled his pens in an effort to deal with the pain.

Since returning home, he’s needed frequent care at the Robert Dole VA. His old bosses made it a lot harder to get that care.

According to a flag on McClure’s patient records obtained by Popular Military, the wounded vet must notify the VA police whenever he arrives at the hospital. He’s to have a police escort at all times.

“Per Disruptive Behavior Committee,” the file reads. “Veteran is to check in with VA Police and have VA Police escort whenever on station. Please contact VA Police if on station without escort. Patient has made Terroristic Threats.”

VA officials placed this flag on McClure’s patient file a little after noon on April 17, just hours after it terminated him.

According to the VA’s own policy, placing a flag of this nature on an account requires a special meeting of a Disruptive Behavior Committee. According to the VA’s own paperwork, the committee can place such a serious flag on a patient’s record only after “completion of an evidFence-based, multidisciplinary, and multi-dimensional threat assessment, which considers static and dynamic violence risk factors present in the patient, violence risk mitigators, and violence risk factors associated with the setting where the incident occurred.”

“The facility must develop a systematic approach for collecting reports involving incidents of disruptive, threatening, or violent behavior,” the VA training document explains.

According to Pope’s testimony, Vazquez had no formal reports of McClure’s behavior on April 16. Someone flagged his patient records just hours after his termination, the same day an employee registered the first formal complaint against him. It doesn’t sound as if McClure’s case was subject to an evidence, report based assessment.

More damning is the hospital’s response to a FOIA request sent asking for “Any and all evidence that was shared to the VA Police, in regards to Nathaniel R.McClure … all emails and documents that were shared with the ‘Disruptive Behavior Committee’ in the regards of Nathaniel R. McClure … any information or security concerns that were shared between the VA Police and Federal Protective Services in the regards of Nathaniel R. McClure.”

VA director Vazquez signed the response to the FOIA request himself. “After conducting a reasonable search,” it reads “We have concluded that the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center does not have records responsive to your request.”

Meaning no such records exist. There’s no emails or documents shared with the Disruptive Behavior Committee, no lengthy investigation into the McClure’s supposed threats and no just cause for his termination.

Based on the available evidence, it seems as if the Robert Dole VA fired McClure then created a paper trail after the fact to back up the decision.

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