A counselor who was barred from seeing patients at the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center for 14 months but stayed on the job while idle said Wednesday she has been fired and plans to sue the VA.
Carlson, 33, came to work and collected her $65,000 annual salary during a lengthy investigation into her relationship with a veteran who attended meetings of post-traumatic stress disorder support groups.
She denied any wrongdoing and refused to quit.
“This whole issue has been weird from the very beginning. I firmly believe that the Salem witch trials did make their way to Roseburg,” Carlson said.
Roseburg VA spokeswoman Carrie Booth confirmed Carlson no longer works at the medical center, but said she could not comment about the circumstances.
“Federal employees are protected with certain privacy rights regarding personnel actions,” Boothe said.
Carlson said that on Oct. 24 she requested a three-month medical leave because she was suffering ill effects from stress.
She said her supervisors OK’d the leave, but on Oct. 25 her attorney received a letter stating Carlson had been terminated.
Carlson said she will appeal her firing to the federal Merit Systems Protection Board and pursue a lawsuit.
Some of Carlson’s former patients said Wednesday they were disappointed by the VA’s handling of the case and wished Carlson could return to her post.
Vietnam veteran John Miles, 66, of Roseburg said he stopped attending a PTSD support group less than a month after Carlson was banned from leading it.
“She seemed to have the glue that held it all together,” he said.
Vietnam veteran Nick Rodriguez, 67, of Tenmile expressed anger over Carlson’s firing and the long wait for her case to be resolved.
“I just think it was unfair that for over a year she was left in limbo. I think this is totally ridiculous,” Rodriguez said. “We trusted her and then they take her away from us just like that.”
Rodriguez said Carlson was the most effective counselor he has had because she took the time to read up on each of her patients and knew when to talk to them about their problems.
“We’re sad to be losing her, and we’re sad her life is messed up in this fashion,” he said.
His wife, Merrie Jo Rodriguez, 63, joined a group Carlson started for wives of veterans suffering from PTSD. She said Carlson was a “fantastic counselor.”
“She really cares about each individual. To earn the veterans’ trust at her age, that is remarkable because these are hardened veterans and they don’t trust easily. They all miss her, and I know I do,” she said.
Carlson said she will miss her patients.
“It was an honor and pleasure to work with the veterans that I worked with. They taught me more about life than I could ever learn out of a textbook,” she said.
Carlson declined to comment on her career plans or where she planned to move, saying she wants to stay “under the radar.”
“I will come back stronger than ever because of all this and will rebuild my life. My possibilities of what I might do are endless. The Roseburg VA is simply a bad nightmare that took its toll,” she said. “I’m literally building my life over again.”
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I will come back stronger than ever because of all this and will rebuild my life.
Fired VA counselor