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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Clout: Congressman Brad Miller, General Shinseki, and the Pittsburgh VA

UPDATE: Please also check out my new book, The Definitive Dossier on PTSD in Whistleblowers, for only $3.99, in which I dedicate chapter four entirely to the exploits of Dr. Anna Chacko. 

What you are about to read is one side of a very disturbing and startling story. The reason, though, that this story is so one sided is because only one side chose to speak with me and answer all my questions. I reached out to the Veterans Administration and received no call back. I reached out to several folks at the Pittsburgh VA and received no call back. I reached out to Congressman Brad Miller and received no call back. I even reached out to Dr. Anna Chacko and after speaking briefly, Dr. Chacko refused to speak with me until after speaking with her attorney. She's had no comment since.

Dr. Anna Chacko is currently the head of radiology at the Pittsburgh VA Hospital. Dr. Chacko manages the radiology department as a tyrant, an incompetent, and she has created a culture of fear throughout the department. That's not me saying this. In fact, according to my sources, that's the testimony of six of the fourteen radiologists in the department that she runs this past March as part of an investigative board that was convened to determine if she should be removed. At this board, members of the radiology department testified that Dr. Chacko routinely spreads lies about members of radiology she doesn't like, threatens legal resident aliens working at the VA that she'll report them to immigration if they cross her, and she even forbid members of radiology from speaking to each other while working (except for during patient care that is). Furthermore, they testified that Dr. Chacko routinely did minimal clinical work. She was even described by some as "incompetent" as a radiologist. It was testified that Dr. Chacko created an environment in which the department was divided and at war with itself.

There's no doubt that Dr. Chacko had her supporters. Chief among them was Dr. Rashmikant Shah. Still after hearing all the testimony, the investigative board determined that Dr. Chacko needed to be removed. Dr. Chacko challenged the results and at some point, Dr. Chacko hired an attorney. The attorney saw that the investigative board wasn't conducted properly and the results were thrown out. As such, in May, another board, Summary Board for a Probationary Employee, was convened by the Pittsburgh VA in order to again try and remove Dr. Anna Chacko. Dr. Chacko, who often bragged about having political connections, was able to reach out to Congressman Brad Miller of North Carolina. A sub committee he chairs has oversight over the VA system, and he lead an investigation earlier into this same Pittsburgh VA Hospital. Then, Congressman Miller reached out to General Eric Shinseki, in support of Dr. Chacko. Sometime after that word came down from the top of the Veterans Administration that proceedings against Dr. Chacko at the Pittsburgh VA cease and that she be given her position back.

This story starts in October of 2008. That's when Dr. Anna Chacko first took over as the head of the radiology department at the Pittsburgh VA. Almost immediately, conflict occurred within the department. Dr. Chacko threatened those she didn't like. Many in the VA are legal resident aliens. Those she threatened with a call to immigration. The department was divided and everyone worked in fear. At one point, she told the department that there would be no more conversations during work that weren't work related. On top of this, many of the people that worked for her felt she wasn't pulling her weight as far as clinical duties.

As such, complaints began to be raised up the chain of the VA. Two administraters in the chain critical to this story were Dr. Rajiv Jain, the Chief of Staff at the Pittsburgh VA, and Dr. Mona Melham, head of Clinical Support. In March, the investigative board was held at which, according to my sources, six of the fourteen members of the department testified against her. Dr. Shah, presumably, testified in her favor. The decision was handed down to remove Dr. Anna Chacko. At this point she hired an attorney. The attorney noticed that procedures weren't followed properly and that didn't allow Dr. Chacko to present her evidence in a proper form. As such, the results were thrown out. Yet, because she challenged the results, she was given transcripts of all testimony. So, she now knew which of her staff testified against her.

In May, a new board, a Summary Board for a Probationary Employee, was about to convene to once again her testimony in lieu of removing Dr. Chacko from her position. Dr. Chacko is a military veteran who retired with the rank of Colonel. She often bragged to staff and colleagues that she had political connections. It appears she used them. It's unclear just how many politicians she reached out to but I can confirm that she reached out to Congressman Brad Miller. Congressman Miller chairs the Sub Committee on Science and Technology. A couple years prior to this incident, Congressman Miller chaired an investigation into this same Pittsburgh VA into the unauthorized destruction of the world's leading collections of legionella disease. Chiefly implicated in this particular scandal were Dr. Jain and Dr. Melham. (neither returned my phone calls for comment into either matter)

While I don't know the exact dynamics of communications between Dr. Chacko and Congressman Miller, I can confirm that in May of this year Congressman Miller then reached out General Shinseki, head of the entire Veterans Administration. First, Congressman Miller acknoweldged that normally a hiring matter is not part of the oversight of his committee however he stepped in in the interest of in his words "fairness". Congressman Miller portrayed the charges against Dr. Chacko as being orchestrated not by members of her team but by Dr. Jain and Dr. Mehman. Congressman Miller then proceeded to summarize the case he built against the two in regards to the destruction of legionella. As such, in Congressman Miller's view, the two had limited credibility. Furthermore, the prior Veterans Administration had assured the sub committee that action would be taken against both and to reform the Pittsburgh VA, and none of that happened. Congressman Miller told General Shinseki that Dr. Chacko had complained to superiors about Dr. Melham's "conduct in the radiology department" and that this conduct " compromised patient care".

Congressman Miller presented the situation as Dr. Chacko the fearless whistle blower being targeted by a corrupt staff. Congressman’s Miller said that the witnesses were selected to discriminate against Dr. Chakco and the testimonies were forced. He asked General Shinseki to postpone the second investigative body then scheduled for May 21 until a "thorough investigation is conducted by the department's Inspector General". The IG did investigate and concluded that the initial Investigative Board was called properly. It was then that Dr. Chacko's attorney noticed that evidence was presented improperly and the results were thrown out. Before the second board could be convened, word came down from Shinseki's office that Dr. Chacko would stay on board.

Dr. Chacko was then mandated to take some form of management training and at the beginning of August she came back to work. Since then, my sources tell me that things are even worse. Both Dr. Jain and Dr. Melham are powerless since she was able to orchestrate her return. Often, the head of the hospital, Dr. Wolff, is the only person that can get Dr. Chacko to do her required clinical work. The abuse is now even worse. The rule about no informal talking has been installed again. She's now demanding that the department buy a new GE radiology machine even though the current machine is fine and everyone is happy with it. Worst of all, since she received copies of testimony, Dr. Chacko knows who in her department testified against her and continues to retaliate against them with threats, lies, and abusive behavior.

It's clear that in Congressman Miller's correspondence to General Shinseki he presented the story strictly from the point of view of Dr. Chacko. That anyone testified against her because they were "selected to discriminate against her" is a flat out lie one source tells me. In fact, this source also tells me that they called Congressman Miller's office and complained to the Congressman anonymously about Dr. Chacko. From all the evidence I have gathered, it appears that Congressman Miller stepped into the internal hiring matter of the Pittsburgh VA only hearing one side of the story. He himself acknowledged that such an action is extraordinary and yet he clearly didn't do all his due diligence. I would have loved to have heard his side but after speaking to a member of his staff I returned no call back.

Finally, I want to put Dr. Chacko into some context. Prior to working at the Pittsburgh VA, she worked at St. James hospital in Butte, Montana. Prior to that, she worked at Boston University. Even prior to her arriving at St. James, Dr. Chacko accused a local radiologist, Dr. Jesse Cole, of making threats against her.

Chacko testified she had a disturbing phone conversation with Cole earlier this year where Cole allegedly said “bad things could happen to you” if she came to Butte. She claims Cole was “sputtering with rage” during the conversation and she felt physically threatened.

“It was scary, because it was such a quick change of mood,” she testified about the conversation.Chacko, a radiologist with Boston University, said she knew Cole was a “weapons expert” and feared he would harm her.

I spoke with Dr. Cole. He categorically denied ever making any threats against her and he testified as much. He told me that prior to this alleged incident he remembered having one phone call with Dr. Chacko that lasted about fifteen seconds. Furthermore, he told me that he testified under oath as such. He also wanted to point out that while there was eventually a restraining order no criminal charges were ever filed. (even though Dr. Chacko's accusations were criminal in nature) On top of all this, Dr. Cole told me that he now works at Big Sky Diagnostics in Butte and business there is booming in part because the radiology department at St. James has cratered. That's the same department Dr. Chacko was hired to transform.

On top of this, when Dr. Chacko came to work at St. James, it was part of a major staff shake up that included the firing of two radiologists with a combined 60 years of service to St. James. Here's how the head of St. James, James R. Kiser, explained his overall strategy in bringing in Dr. Chacko at the time.

These contracts will make the hospital economically viable and allow it to expand, Kiser said.The financial goal of the hospital is to have a profit margin of 4 percent on the dollar. Kiser said last fiscal year, the hospital only had a profit margin of 1.5 percent on the dollar.

“We need to be 4 percent on the dollar to survive,” he said. St. James sees a much higher percentage of Medicare patients than a normal city. Much of the cost of services the hospital provides to low-income patients is never recovered.

Kiser wants the hospital to be a “regional hub” for health-care, but acknowledges there are difficulties in maintaining a hospital in a small town and staying profitable.“We’re too small to be big, and too big to be small,” Kiser said.

The hospital hopes to overcome its growing pains with the acquisition of its latest physician, Dr. Chacko. As head of the hospital’s radiology department, Chacko will be responsible for recruiting doctors, training and selecting equipment. Kiser promises the public there will be two to three radiologists on hand at the hospital all the time.

Dr. Chacko was brought in as part of a major cost and restructuring program in which she was tasked with totally revamping the radiology department. She took over in July of 2007 and by October of 2008 she was already working elsewhere on the other side of the country. Furthermore, the hospital was buried deep in red ink the entire time she worked there.

Finally, during her time, Dr. Chacko was charged with exactly the same type of behavior that my sources tell me she is perpetrating at the Pittsburgh VA.

An employee at St. James Healthcare has filed a lawsuit against the hospital claiming the new director of radiology has been defaming her at work.

Kristi George alleges that Dr. Anna Chacko has been making false statements about her in an attempt to get her fired, according to documents filed in Butte district court.

Chacko took over as the director of radiology at the hospital in July.

George, who has worked at the hospital for the past six years in radiology, claims Chacko started criticizing George’s work performance to other hospital staff from the moment she started at the hospital.

Like I said, this story is one sided. Like I also said, that's because only one side would speak to me. The reason that everyone that spoke to me was anonymous was because Dr. Chacko has threatened to sue anyone that spoke to the press. She has created a climate of fear at the Pittsburgh VA, and it's part of a pattern of behavior. I would love to hear from the other side but their silence speaks for itself. As such, I believe I have presented a clear case here. Dr. Chacko is a tyrant and an incompetent. She also has political connections. She has used those to get the highest levels of the Veterans Administration to micromanage the hiring of the Pittsburgh VA. A powerful Congressman used his position to go to bat for her. This was done only hearing her side of the story. As such, the radiology department at the Pittsburgh VA is in shambles. Sources tell me most are applying for jobs elsewhere. This affects patient care throughout the Pittsburgh VA. Finally, Dr. Chacko makes somewhere in the neighborhood of $300,000 yearly and since she works at the VA, that's tax payer money. This means everyone reading this is contributing to her salary.


Here's the definitive dossier of Dr. Chacko.


Anonymous said...

There are sever problems at the Pittsburg VA, simmilar problems have and continue to occured at the Lebanon VA. Accusations being made against Dr. Chacko should be highly suspect. VISN 4 (Morland, Wolfe, Callahan, Melham) have an established modes' operandi were they use supervisors and employee's against each other to create internal chaos. This chaos affords them the oportunity and the excuses to terminate employee's they just don't like, (whistle blowers). Look in to the legionella situation at Pittsburg. Find out how many people have been terminated at the two facilities. Ask how many law suits have been filed againt Terry Gerigk Wolfe.

mike volpe said...

Yeah, that's exactly how Dr. Chacko framed the issue to Congressman Miller. Except it wasn't any of the three doctors that brought the charges against her. It was people in her department. The four you mention are a trojan horse. It's members of her department that are complaining.

Who cares how many suits have been filed against Dr. Wolfe? I mentioned her once. Every name you mention is a trojan horse.

Are you saying the same doctor that is accused of abuse and lying at ST. James is also accused of lying here and it's all inaccurate?

Anonymous said...

Please keep an open mind and read again what I first posted, these people play unwanted supervisors againt their unwanted employees and vise a versa(they threaten and use intimidation to gain information about people they want gone). I have first hand knowledge about them and I know how these people operate. I won't debate this with you. Your origanal post says it's a one sided story. Well, it is, there are two side's and I'll bet with a little digging you'll find more people saying what I've said. I said accusations by employee's againt Chacko should be suspect. Trojan horse? No way! A thorough investigation in VISN 4 is needed.

mike volpe said...

With all due respect, this isn't my first investigative piece and someone like you always shows up. They're always anonymous. They always claim that I am wrong and they never have anything but some conjecture in the comments section that I am wrong. If you want to contact me, my email is on the side.

the reason the story is one sided is because the other side refused to talk to me to give their side. That speaks for itself. I have sourced everything that I got.

If you think coming onto the site to leave anonymous comments sways anyone you are silly.

If you think there is something I am missing I encourage you to find my email address on the site. Contact me and we will speak.

Anonymous said...

This Dr. Chacko sounds like the Carly Fiorina of the Pittsbugh VA.

mike volpe said...

I don't know what that means. Fiorina ran a private company.

Anonymous said...

Thank God for people like me knowing the truth and showing up. Sway you? I merely asked you to keep an open mind, and personally I really don't care if you're swayed or not. I just want the truth to be known about VISN 4. Silly? If you knew me personally you would know how very serious I am and that is the last thing you would say about me. I'm only repeating what you said about a one sided story. There must be a reason one side won't speak in addition to me being anonymous, did you ever consider the legal aspects. Enough said!

These people in VISN 4 are destroying peoples lives, (career employee's) good honest people, maybe Dr Chacko deserves what has happened to her, I don't know her or her history. But I do know the people I referenced, I know what they do and I know how they operate. I'm telling you the VISN 4 group I mentioned are destroying many good employee's careers, this VISN 4 clique has mis-appropriated funds, wasted taxpayers money and silenced anyone who didn't keep quite. Mr. Volpe I didn't respond to your article to cause you trouble. I just want anyone who reads this to know some of what I know. I lived it, I know them. You don't!

mike volpe said...

Again, everyone you are talking about has nothing to do with the story. In fact, none of them called me back. So, like I said, you are creating a trojan horse. If you have a story to tell, contact me by email.

Anonymous said...

Like I said, I know them, you don't, or maybe you do you. Seems as though you're the only trojan horse around here.

mike volpe said...

Like I said, the people you know are tangential to the story which is why it's a trojan horse.

Anonymous said...

You got this precisely correct. You captured in one story, the entire history of her reign of terror every place she has been recently. If you go back further, to where she was manipulating contracts (when she was previously working at an Army facility)so that the Siemens rep (who later became her husband) would benefit, you would have the whole story. She has been brought up on charges numerous times, but inevitably she stays one small step ahead of the evidence needed to convict her. The sooner she is drumed out of our profession, the better off the entire industry will be

Anonymous said...

I suspect if you look far enough back in the doctors career, there would be similar controversies. I wonder if she ever worked in Hawaii? In Colorado? In Texas? in Massachusetts?
Can a blogger get a Pulitzer Prize? I bet you could.

mike volpe said...

A blogger can get a pulitzer but let's not get ahead of ourselves. It appears this blogger may want to look in Colorado, Texas, Massachusetts and hawaii.

Anonymous said...

And San Francisco.

Anonymous said...

You should look in Massachusetts, I worked with both her and Shah. He follows where ever she goes. And your story describes her actions that I have witnessed first hand. It is time that they both should be held accountable for their actions.

Anonymous said...

She is a woman's version of "Jeckle and Hyde". She perfected a drama routine (tears and all) to prey on her victims before she devours them. She tells them stories about how she was abused all her life (sexually, physically, emotionally....etc) and how she survived all the evils in the military, where she was accused of sexual affairs with her military bosses. She tells stories about her kidnapped son who was taken away at age 3 by her exhusband, and how she found him after almost 20 years. Once she captured the sympathy of the listner, tears come rolling... then she moves to her glorious present, where she describes the mansion she built in Butte on 70+ acres, her ownership of a plantation in Hawaii (sometimes it is a pineapple plantation, and sometimes it is a coffee plantation, depending on the listener). Finally she tries to buy the listener out, by promising them money, presents, advancement....etc. If the prey falls in her web, they, temporarily, save themselves from her wrath, and if they do NOT buy in, then she turns the other face, and shows them a hell they never dreamt, with false accusations, and spreading false rumors attempting to destroy their livelihood, and long spotless records.
Unfortunately there are some people in highly visible and powerful positions, some elected officials, that are so naive as to help her attain some of her foals. These too have to be scrutinized, or may be she has a certain "hold" on them, where, they too, have been her victims, and are now blackmailed to do as she pleases.
This blogger has an exciting subject at hand. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

wow this is great stuff. she tore a 7000 sq ft beautiful home down to it's studs and built an 11000 sq ft monstrosity in it's place. several union laborers quit working for her because she was an absolute raving maniac. she is a quintessential sociopath. No shame, no morals, no heart and no brain!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

WOW!!!! an 11000 sq ft house built on a retired military income!!??

The military must have changed their payscale since I last checked!! and it is tax payer money!!

This too deserves a closer look.

Good luck

mike volpe said...

Let me add a few things to be fair to Dr. Chacko, yes I just said that.

First, she's been out of the military for a while and making good money at VA hospitals and private hospitals.

Second, let's not forget that it's Butte, Mt. and with all due respect to Butte, we aren't talking about crazy real estate prices.

That said, all parts of her life need to be investigated.

Anonymous said...

"A while" is 6-7 years. You ask any honest salaried physician, how much fortune can you accumulate in such period!! Not much!! You'll be surprised, and very disappointed!!

mike volpe said...

I agree though I think it's more like 8 years. Listen, I have no doubt that her money was anything but dirty. I just wanted to be fair and point that she's been in the private sector for sometime and that in Butte, Mt. such a house isn't as expensive as in other places.

Anonymous said...

Actually a home is more expensive to build in Butte, MT than in other areas because it is largely union labor. Her house was about $250/sq. ft finished. You do the math taking 7000 sq. ft. down to it's studs and then adding 4000 sq. ft more!

Anonymous said...


It's Devil's Advocate here, sent from Dr. Moore's story. First off, this story is SO much better than the first I had read; it is wonderful how you spoke to or at least attempted to speak to every involved party that you could find and also that have embedded documents and links to information in the story itself. This is a true investigative piece, and I'm not done working my way through all of it yet. And wow! What a crazy tale!

What fascinates me in these stories is how people that are so clearly personally linked get involved in your writing, and add information (some true, some false I'm sure). I was recently the victim of a crime myself, and police used blog comments on the newspaper article to catch the criminal. People reveal a lot when they think they are anonymous.

This is a very intricate story of corruption and yes, it does sound like the woman is emotionally disturbed. However, I'm digging around, because I do have trouble believing that one person has been able to be so evil and yet continue to find lucrative employment.

What I don't understand is how one or even two individuals seem to be capable of running their agendas through entire hospitals, across government agencies, etc. I find conspiracies hard to swallow, and I generally always think there's a more simple explanation.

But after reading your blog, let me tell you, I hope I don't have to go to a hospital any time soon.

mike volpe said...

It's true that my skills improved from the time I wrote the Moore piece to this one but the flaws in that aren't nearly as pronounced as you suggest.

Anonymous said...


I didn't mean to indicate that it was poor journalism in the other case. I think it's just a story that didn't lend itself to the format of investigative journalism too readily, since many of the "facts" occurred as private conversations, and in an isolated location (i.e.: one hospital, rather than several).

In Chako's case, there is simply much more documentation available, and she is a much more intriguing character.


mike volpe said...

How fascinating Chacko is has no bearing on whether it can be an investigative piece.

There's also plenty of private conversations here but almost no one will go on the record whereas with Dr. Moore, he went on the record in entirety. That's why I could say private conversations.

Charles said...

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