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Veterans
Documents reveal Ranjan's claims against VA, role in Whitmer's early retirement

Department of Veterans Affairs documents received by The News-Review this week confirm that it was former Roseburg VA Chief of Surgery Dinesh Ranjan whose Equal Employment Opportunity case led to the early retirement of former Roseburg VA Director David Whitmer last week.

The source who sent us the documents asked not to be identified.

One of these documents was the July 23, 2019, Final Agency Decision signed by Maxanne Witkin, director of the Office of Employment Discrimination Complaint Adjudication.

In it, Witkin outlined a series of 20 charges that Ranjan made against the Roseburg VA in 2018. Ranjan, who was born in India and is in his 60s, alleged that he was discriminated against on the basis of race, national origin, age and other issues.

Nineteen of those claims were dismissed.

RETALIATION CLAIM

Ranjan’s one successful claim involved retaliation rather than discrimination. Witkin ruled that Whitmer had retaliated against Ranjan for his testimony in a separate case.

Whitmer alleged that Ranjan gave false testimony in that case, and he recommended Ranjan receive a five-day suspension for it.

But Witkin said even if Ranjan gave false testimony, that testimony is protected and Whitmer could not penalize him for it.

In that separate case, a coworker had accused Ranjan of violating their equal employment opportunity rights.

Whitmer would face two separate punishments for retaliation. After the second, he chose to retire early. Until last week, he was serving as director of the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin, Georgia.

Whitmer had come to the Roseburg VA in 2018 for a one-year stint, brought in as a fixer for a medical center in crisis.

Several top officials had been investigated for bullying and whistle-blower retaliation and staff morale was low.

The federal VA Office of the Medical Inspector had mandated that several officials, including Ranjan, be removed from supervisory responsibility.

The second document received by The News-Review this week was a copy of Whitmer’s April 2, 2021, written response to his punishment for the alleged retaliation. It was sent to Assistant Under Secretary for Health for Operations and Management Renee Oshinski.

Whitmer wrote that when he arrived in Roseburg he was required to submit weekly action plans to regional and federal officials in response to investigations against the Roseburg VA. He said his proposal to suspend Ranjan for five days was submitted to those officials and the Office of General Counsel.

Whitmer also said being disciplined twice for the same action violated his constitutional right not to face double jeopardy.

And Whitmer suggested the Office of Accountability and Whistle-blower Protection investigated him twice in hopes of combating criticism that the office isn’t doing much.

“In the span (of) four months, I received two proposed disciplinary actions from OAWP for activities that occurred nearly three years prior. These proposed disciplinary actions included the same set of facts, the same individual who claimed retaliation, but was investigated by two different OAWP staff, signed off by two different OAWP leaders, and with no indication in the footnotes of either of the cases they acknowledge the other investigation,” Whitmer wrote.

Now, he feared, “a third and fatal strike to my VA career could come at any time from OAWP.”

He also said the allegedly false testimony Ranjan gave caused the agency to settle a case for $200,000.

Whitmer wrote that he sacrificed a lot to spend a year at the Roseburg VA, including leaving behind twins who were seniors in high school and a younger son who was a sophomore back in his home state of Florida.

“I took on an incredibly difficult, year-long assignment (with no pay adjustment) and started a cultural transformation that I believe Roseburg and its new Director benefits from today,” he wrote.

DISCRIMINATION CLAIMS

Ranjan alleged he had been discriminated against for several years.

Among his 19 unsuccessful claims, he argued his removal as chief of surgery in 2018 was motivated by discrimination. But Witkin disagreed. She ruled the removal was based on the Office of the Medical Inspector investigation and corresponding media coverage.

Ranjan said he had been framed by Roseburg VA Police when they responded to a bullying complaint against him in 2015.

This could be a reference to an incident involving former VA clerk Susan Neeley May. May told The News-Review two years afterward that Ranjan berated her for close to half an hour, yelling, looming over her and waving his hands angrily.

Several witnesses corroborated the story and one reported the incident to VA police, who concluded that Ranjan had been “loud enough to upset the normal working environment,” and his “behavior could be interpreted as intimidating.”

The police found a claim of disorderly conduct was substantiated.

Witkin said Ranjan couldn’t use his discrimination case to attack the police investigation.

Ranjan had also been under fire regarding his performance of colonoscopies.

The VA’s gastroenterologist and another surgeon had voiced concern about Ranjan’s competence. Both later alleged VA managers retaliated against them for blowing the whistle on Ranjan.

Ranjan alleged that other doctors discriminated against him by performing repeat colonoscopies on his patients and that his colonoscopy photos were removed from patient records in order to frame him.

An Office of Inspector General report found Ranjan used outdated practices like burning polyps, a procedure that increases the risk of colon perforation, but found no evidence any colonoscopies had been performed unsafely.

Ranjan even argued that his coworker’s equal opportunity case against him was itself an act of discrimination.

Witkin said Ranjan couldn’t lodge a second Equal Employment Opportunity case as a collateral attack against another.

Ranjan also alleged that coworkers made racist comments about him, that his car was keyed after a workplace dispute and that a coworker accused him of “killing blackbirds and throwing them on her porch.”

He said Whitmer had called him an “outsider” and suggested he might feel more comfortable in a different community.

Witkin said the evidence showed that it was Ranjan who referred to himself as an “outsider” in an email to Whitmer.

Ranjan also alleged a local congressman discriminated against him by directing oversight investigations, an apparent reference to Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield.

Witkin took a dim view of this claim, noting “courts tend to be skeptical of such elaborate plot theories.”

Ranjan declined to comment for this story.


News
Sutherlin man sentenced to 10 years for September 2020 DUII crash

On Sept. 19, 2020, William McCullough IV and Mark Ritter were leaving a friend’s house, heading to Ritter’s home to work on his resume.

It was a little after 9 p.m.

As they waited to enter Highway 42 from Jackie Lane in a silver Pontiac Grand Am, Dustin Robinson was on his way to Winston in a black Dodge Ram pickup. In the blink of an eye, three worlds were forever changed.

Robinson veered off of the highway and onto an adjacent bike path before crashing into the side of the Grand Am at 60 mph. The impact of the crash thrust the car into a nearby grassy area.

McCullough IV and Ritter, both 20, were dead before first responders could arrive.

Robinson, 36, was sentenced to 10 years in the Oregon Department of Corrections after pleading guilty to two counts of second-degree manslaughter Wednesday in Douglas County Circuit Court. Robinson also pled guilty to driving under the influence of intoxicants.

As a condition of his plea agreement with the District Attorney’s office, Robinson’s driving privileges in Oregon will be suspended for life, and he will serve three years of post-prison supervision. A reckless driving charge was dismissed.

Prior to the reading of Robinson’s sentence, William McCullough III told the court of the special bond he shared with his son, who had recently become a father himself.

“Over the last 20 years, he had made my life so much better,” McCullough III said through tears. “I loved teaching him new things, telling him new jokes, teaching him how to socially adapt.

“There aren’t words to describe what he meant to me. We had a bond that very few kids have with their dads. He wanted to make a difference, and he was achieving that goal.”

McCullough IV’s stepmother, Martillia, spoke of losing her son and the impact Sept. 19 will always have on her life. During her statement, she wanted Robinson to write to the family on the 19th of every month while he was incarcerated.

Robinson’s attorney, David Terry, read a written statement from one of Robinson’s closest friends, John Connolly.

“The perpetrator that is responsible for the car accident that killed William and Mark is Dustin Robinson, my best friend and someone I love like a brother,” Connolly wrote. “When I found out what Dustin did, I was shocked, devastated, and did not think that it could be true.

“The mistake Dustin made took the lives of your boys, destroyed your lives, destroyed his own life, destroyed his family, destroyed his children’s childhood, and the emotional impact that this will have on their lives is yet to be known. His decision to drink and drive caused destruction that reached everyone around him.”

Terry then read a written statement from Robinson himself, where he stated plainly, “My name is Dustin Robinson and I killed Mark and William. I am not asking for mercy or forgiveness. I deserve neither. I fully accept responsibility for my actions in this and will accept the judgement coming.

“September 19th was the worst day of my life,” Robinson’s statement continued. “I have cried every day. I feel evil. I feel wretched and worthless. I destroyed your lives. I took everything from those boys.”

Prior to receiving his formal sentence, Robinson stood and faced multiple family members of the victims, who were seated in the jury box.

“I know I deserve to be punished,” Robinson said, voice choking. “I will write you every 19th. God bless you all. I’m sorry.”


Education
Evergreen Family Medicine provides 'Bestie Bags' to fifth grade girls in Roseburg

Evergreen Family Medicine Certified Nurse Midwife Stacie Hanna decided two years ago that she wanted to make sure fifth grade girls have the supplies they need to navigate puberty and menstruation.

This year, 200 bags will be distributed to Roseburg elementary schools to provide a “Bestie Bag” to each fifth grade girl.

“Evergreen Women’s Health recognizes that puberty can be a very confusing and exciting time in a young girl’s life,” Hanna said. “We hope that the ‘Bestie Bag’ will help to provide some ease by having a cute place to store pads, tampons, hair ties, deodorant and more. Like your best friend, you’re gonna want this bag by your side.”

Each handmade bag will include a pad, deodorant, lip balm, a hair tie and hair clips.

Hanna was inspired when her oldest daughter came home from school, after learning about human growth and development, with a small bag with a couple pads and deodorant in it. She learned that teachers made the bags themselves and most schools didn’t distribute any bags at all.

Hanna got her supervisors at Evergreen, Director of Women’s Health Dr. Mary Powell and Chief Operating Officer of Evergreen Family Medicine and Women’s Health Kim Tyree on board with her project, and this year every fifth grade girl in the Roseburg school district will receive a “Bestie Bag.”

Hanna wanted to make sure more girls have access to these resources and reached out to Fremont Middle School teacher Megan Crouch last year. Crouch owns her own cosmetic bag company called Needle & Oak and helped create the bags.

“I told her about my hope to be able to provide a bag of sorts to local girls during their human growth and development lessons, but that I want them to be cute and fun,” Hanna said. “I wanted young girls to feel empowered in their changing bodies and not be afraid or embarrassed of them.”

Hanna said the hopes to distribute bags to every fifth grade girl in Douglas County in years to come.


Veterans
Former Roseburg VA director retires early after he was punished for disciplining surgeon

Former Roseburg VA director retires early after he was punished for disciplining surgeon

{child_byline}CARISA CEGAVSKE

Senior Staff Writer

The News-Review

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Former Roseburg VA Medical Center Director Dave Whitmer has retired from the VA early following controversy about discipline of a former surgeon here.

Whitmer served as interim director here for most of 2018. He was brought in as a fixer, tasked with turning around a VA that was struggling with problem managers, low staff morale and allegations of bullying and whistle-blower retaliation.

That was also the year that the VA Office of the Medical Inspector mandated that several officials be removed from supervisory responsibility, including former Chief of Surgery Dinesh Ranjan, who had stepped down and been reassigned in January of that year.

Whitmer said Wednesday in an open letter via email to staff members at Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin, Georgia, that his departure was related to his discipline of a surgeon for allegedly providing false testimony in an Equal Employment Opportunity case. He did not name the surgeon.

The News-Review received a copy of the letter on Friday.

According to Whitmer’s letter, the surgeon’s testimony led to a substantial payout to another doctor.

Whitmer said that he had disciplined the surgeon on the advice of the VA Office of General Counsel. He also said he proposed the surgeon’s suspension.

Years later, in December 2020, the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection notified Whitmer it was investigating the matter.

The VA Office of Resolution Management then called for disciplinary action against Whitmer for proposing the surgeon be suspended.

The reason given was the surgeon had filed an unrelated Equal Employment Opportunity case that was pending at the time.

Because of that case, the Office of Resolution Management argued the proposed suspension amounted to retaliation against the surgeon.

Whitmer said he received two disciplinary notices over the incident within three months. The first, he said, he didn’t challenge because the punishment only involved four hours of training. The second he did challenge.

“My defense of the second action successfully mitigated that discipline to a lesser charge, but the sting of having that disciplinary action in my official personnel file while all of my attention was on our COVID response was profound,” he said in the letter.

He said until then in his 30-year career in public service he never had any discipline proposed against him. It made no sense to him, he said, that it happened twice in three months and that both of those occurred years after the incident.

“This was deeply troubling to me and caused me to rethink my future at the VA,” he said.

While he was considering leaving, he received a job offer from the private sector and decided to accept it, he said.

Thursday was Whitmer’s last day at the VA.

Reached by phone on Friday, Whitmer told The News-Review he wasn’t sure how much he could say about the incidents that led to his retirement, other than what was in his letter.

“I felt like I couldn’t lead with confidence knowing that I had two (Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection) strikes against me and not knowing when a third could happen,” he said of his decision to retire early.

He said his new job is as a chief strategy officer for DSS Inc., an information-technology integration company based in his home state of Florida.

“I’m more focused on the door that’s been opened to me than the one that’s been closed,” Whitmer said.

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