The Douglas County Veterans Forum issued a vote of no confidence Thursday against Dinesh Ranjan, the chief of surgery at the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Ranjan has been at the center of more than one scandal at the VA, including allegations he performed substandard colonoscopies and retaliated against whistle-blowers who reported on him. On Thursday, the veterans forum’s executive board voted 8-0 to call for Ranjan’s resignation, removal or reassignment.
“We believe permitting the Chief of Surgery to continue in his position will continue to degrade VA employees’ morale and thus affect their merciful and diligent care giving,” the board said in a written statement.
The VA issued a written statement this morning saying, “We take these concerns — and those of all veterans — seriously. That’s why we are in the process of reaching out to the Douglas County Veterans Forum so we can speak with them in detail on this issue.”
Reached by phone this morning, Ranjan declined to comment, saying he could not talk because he was overseas.
The Douglas County Veterans Forum represents 21 veterans groups and about 5,000 local veterans. It’s not the first time it’s issued a vote of no confidence for the VA. In August 2014, it called for the resignation of three top officials at the VA, including then-director Carol Bogedain. Bogedain stepped down about a month after the vote.
As for the reasons for its vote of no confidence on Ranjan, the board cited an overwhelming number of complaints received from VA employees, issues and questions surrounding colonoscopies, allegations of retaliation against VA employees, a large number of VA employee resignations, and continuing complaints alleging a hostile work environment.
President Larry Hill told The News-Review Thursday’s decision on Ranjan was a “culmination of everything that’s happened so far.” He said Ranjan’s name keeps coming up as issues are brought out at the VA.
“It’s a disservice to have this man in a position of leadership or authority at our VA,” he said.
Whistle-blower Philo Calhoun was removed from surgical duties in 2014 after reporting on colonoscopies Ranjan performed. Calhoun was later vindicated by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and transferred to the Portland VA. He has since retired.
Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner testified before the U.S. Senate in 2015 that 80 colonoscopies performed by Ranjan were reviewed by the chief of gastroenterology and 90 percent were found to have been performed incorrectly.
Former operating room scheduling clerk Susan Neeley May alleged he cornered her in 2015 and berated her for half an hour over surgery schedules, prompting other staff members to contact VA police. She ultimately left her job, and said she has since suffered from anxiety.
May said this morning she was smiling for the first time in a long time when she heard the news.
“I’m crying, but they’re happy tears,” she said.
May said she’s excited about the no confidence vote because she believes it will lead to change at the VA. It’s amazing news for the patients and the employees, many of whom have had their lives changed forever because of Ranjan’s actions, she said.
“It’s going to give them a chance to heal,” she said.
Eugene surgeon Scott Russi alleged Ranjan fired him in August of this year after Russi challenged him on pay and performance issues. Subsequently, Ranjan was named in testimony Rep. Peter DeFazio gave before Congress in October on the recently passed Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017.
Hill said the veterans forum remains confident in the work that VA Director Doug Paxton is doing to bring about positive change at the VA. The statement of no confidence stated Paxton’s “leadership of the Roseburg VA Healthcare System is highly respected by the veteran community. Director Paxton has fostered open and honest communications with the veteran community which is admired and appreciated.”
The statement was mailed to VA Secretary David J. Shulkin and the U.S. House and Senate committees on Veteran Affairs.