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July 26, 2013
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Fed-up Roseburg VA counselor anticipates firing

A Veterans Affairs counselor, who is under investigation and has been barred from meeting with patients for almost a year, says she expects to be fired soon and is ready to leave anyway.

“Even if I don’t get fired, there is no way I could stay at the Roseburg VA. They have made it intolerable for me,” said Jamie Carlson, who has remained on the payroll, collecting a $65,000 annual salary while whiling away time at work on Facebook and YouTube.

Carlson, employed by Roseburg VA Medical Center for six years, has been forbidden to counsel veterans for 11 months. She and a union representative say VA officials are investigating whether she had an intimate relationship with a veteran who attended some post-traumatic stress disorder support groups.

Carlson denies any improper behavior, and VA officials decline to discuss Carlson.

“The VA does not comment on employee issues,” Roseburg VA spokeswoman Carrie Boothe said.

Carlson said she was given a document July 15 that alleges that she failed to notify the VA about a “dual relationship” with the veteran, who she said was an old friend.

Roseburg VA Director Carol Bogedain will make a decision about Carlson’s status within 30 days, according to the notice.

Carlson told The News-Review Wednesday that her attorney is preparing a response to the VA’s notice, but that she is not optimistic about the outcome.

Regardless of Bogedain’s decision, Carlson said she plans to put her two dogs in her pickup and head for another state—destination unknown.

Carolyn Schwab, the president of the union that represents Carlson, said this week the case against Carlson is based on rumors. Firing her would be a mistake because it will bring bad publicity to the VA and possibly a lawsuit, she said. “The entire sordid story would become public knowledge,” Schwab said.

Vietnam War veteran Bud Bessey said Wednesday that Carlson helped him and other veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and that his condition has deteriorated since Carlson has been sidelined.

“I am not getting the care I got when Jamie was there,” Bessey said. “I have had to double up on my meds. My home life has been affected. I’m taking twice as many ‘nice guy’ pills as I’m supposed to.”

Bessey, chief of the Roseburg branch of the Fleet Reserve Association, also said he was an advocate for Carlson’s friend and helped him qualify for VA care. He said that the man was never Carlson’s patient.

“I don’t feel very good about it at all. She’s been totally treated wrong and her rights have been violated,” Bessey said.

Carlson, 33, has filed a discrimination complaint claiming her supervisors have harassed her because she is young, female and Pakistani-American.

Merrie Jo Rodriguez of Tenmile said her husband, Nick, a veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, was helped by Carlson and upset that he could no longer be counseled by her.

“Nick has asked to speak to her several times, and he can’t. He has asked, ‘When are we going to get Jamie back?’ or, ‘When are we going to get somebody else?’ There’s no answer,” she said.

Merrie Jo Rodriguez also helped Carlson organize a support group for wives of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I can’t stress enough she’s helped a lot of people,” Rodriguez said. “It’s stupid to make a person sit there for (11) months and do nothing. ... This is ridiculous. I mean you have a trained professional that needs to be able to do her job.

“My feeling is if the VA has something to charge her with, they should have done it about nine months ago.”

Janis and John Miles of Roseburg said they have both benefited from Carlson’s counsel and even credit her with saving their marriage.

John Miles attended a post-traumatic stress disorder group led by Carlson and received regular counseling from her. When she was barred from seeing patients, Miles said attendance at his group dwindled to one or two veterans a meeting, and he stopped attending.

“If she goes back to work, I’ll go back to seeing her,” he said.

Janis Miles said the VA made a bad decision when it barred Carlson from patient care.

“It’s a shame what they’re doing. It is wrong, and there’s a lot of vets that are losing out,” she said.

Her husband agreed.

“All I am saying is this isn’t right. She didn’t do anything that I know of to warrant this. I’ve gotten a lot of help from her,” he said. “She provides a service for an awful lot of people and it’s wrong to lose her.”

• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or ccegavske@nrtoday.com.

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The News-Review Updated Jul 26, 2013 12:49PM Published Jul 28, 2013 10:12AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.