VA manager sends email mocking suicide prevention; veterans outraged

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (March 9, 2015) - The manager of a clinic at the Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis sent an email to her staff in December that mocks services received by veterans returning with disabilities. Robin Paul is the manager of the Transition Clinic for returning veterans at the Roudebush VA Medical Center. Her office is responsible for the rehabilitation of returning veterans.

“The email was definitely inappropriate; from a retired Master Sergeant standpoint, disgusting,” said retired 20-year Air Force Veteran Ralph Smith.

It was a Christmas email sent to staff from Paul, a licensed social worker. In the email obtained by our partners at the IndyStar, a Christmas elf, appearing as a clinic patient, is seen mocking mental health problems, plaguing veterans.

In one picture, the elf is described as “self-medicating” when a nurse wouldn’t give him his requested prescription. The elf poses next to a sign reading, “Out of Xanax, please help!”

In another, the elf is attempting to commit suicide. A caption for the picture reads, “Caught in the act of suicidal behavior, (trying to hang himself from an electrical cord).”

The email closes out, “Do you think we should try to get him credentialed? Happy Holidays to all!!”

“It’s a vital role that they play and we have to have people in those positions that we have confidence in,” said Smith.

Smith said he’s had nothing but positive experiences with the Roudebush VA. But in a time when the U.S. is struggling to help hurting vets, he’s afraid the email adds insult to injury.

“We have those veterans that drastically need transition assistance, from war zones back to civilian life. From a war type street to Meridian Street and it’s a vital role that they play,” he said.

“It was a totally inappropriate email and it did not respect Indianapolis VA’s commitment to providing medical and mental health treatment of the highest quality to our veterans,” said Julie Webb, the Roudebush Public Affairs Officer.

Webb said Paul was disciplined in accordance to VA policy and released this statement on behalf of the Roudebush leadership:

“The Indianapolis VA Medical is committed to treating our Veterans and the health conditions they face with the utmost respect and compassion. Our mission is to provide the highest level of medical and mental health care which is not reflected in the email.  The email is totally inappropriate and does not convey our commitment to Veterans.  While we cannot comment on specifics due to confidentiality, the matter had been administratively addressed. We apologize to our Veterans and take suicide and mental health treatment seriously, striving to provide the highest quality.”

Paul is still employed as the director of the clinic. She released this statement on Monday:

“I would like to sincerely apologize for the email message and I take full responsibility for this poor judgment.  I have put my heart and soul into my work with Veterans for many years.  I hold all Veterans and military personnel in the highest regard and am deeply remorseful for any hurt this may have caused.”

Ken Hylton, the Commander for the Indiana Department of the American Legion is calling for the immediate removal or resignation of Paul and released this statement after the emails became public:

“We at the American Legion, Department of Indiana believe this sort of insensitive behavior alongside abuse of government time and equipment should not be tolerated whatsoever… We also believe the Indianapolis Richard L. Roudebush Hospital executive leadership should also be held responsible for not acting fiercely on this situation.”