Veterans Affairs exists to help vets. So why did the Salt Lake VA appoint an anti-veteran chief?
The focus of their frustration and concern was Dr. James R. Bennion, a 56-year-old Air Force veteran with a background in occupational and preventative medicine. He was made chief of administrative medicine over C&P and two other departments in August 2013—despite having spent only one year at C&P as an examiner. The three doctors soon realized that Bennion had deep misgivings about the veracity of most veterans’ claims and had set out to institute a shift in the C&P culture to make it much harder for veterans to access benefits.
The Kulkarnis and Johnson, along with other colleagues, complained to VA leadership at local, regional and national levels—triggering multiple inquiries. Their whistle-blowing led to a federal investigation by the Office of Accountability Review (OAR) in the spring of 2016. City Weeklyobtained a redacted copy of the concluding report from the VA through a FOIA request.
In late October 2016, shortly after the Salt Lake VA leadership requested the investigation, Chief of Staff Dr. Karen Gribbin announced in a staff email that the C&P department would be temporarily run by another doctor, while Bennion continued to run Employee Health. Bennion’s demotion became permanent in August 2016. While he might be gone from C&P, his influence, some argue, continues. One employee, on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation, says some of the C&P examiners are “still allowed to unlawfully deny claims with no negative repercussions.”
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