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KTAR exclusive: Former VA PIO breaks silence about harassment, patient lists that led to scandal

The Phoenix VA Health Care Center, shown here on Monday, April 28, 2014, in Phoenix, has come under scrutiny as growing concerns about allegations of gross mismanagement and neglect have resulted in a commitment by the chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee to hold a hearing, members of Arizona's congressional delegation said last week. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX -- An employee at the Veteran's Administration Health Care Center in Phoenix finally broke her silence regarding how she has been treated there.

Paula Pedene kept quiet for a year-and-a-half, but during an appearance on KTAR's Arizona's Morning News Weekend Show on Saturday, May 31, she told show hosts Bob McClay and Becky Lynn about how and why she helped get the word out that the hospital was keeping patients on lists.

Reports eventually came out that medical care for thousands of veterans had been delayed, and that as many as 40 veterans may have died because of it.

Pedene had served as the face and voice of the hospital for 20 years. She dealt with the media daily as the hospital's public information officer.

One of her duties was to help with the Phoenix Veteran's Day Parade.

It was while performing one of those duties that she admits making a "minor" infraction around March 2013.

"I logged my husband onto the computer to put pictures into a power point for the parade awards banquet," Pedene said. "When hospital administrators found out, it was as if I was selling secrets to the Iranians."

Pedene noted that she was the subject of several investigations that to date found nothing, and has been in "settlement negotiations" for months. During those investigations, however, she admitted that she was constantly harassed by management.

While Pedene knew that there was wrongdoing going on at the hospital, she stayed quiet because she needed the job.

When the harassment didn't stop, Dr. Sam Foote convinced her to join him in trying to get the word out about what was going on there. Foote has gained extensive media attention in recent weeks as being the whistleblower who revealed the problems to the nation, leading to the current VA scandal.

Pedene said that she and Foote tried to tell people that veteran's care was being delayed at the hospital.

"We were trying to get information in to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, get information in to the Office of the Medical Inspector (OMI), get information in to members of Congress here locally," she said. "It just kind of fell on deaf ears.

"We were talking about the waiting lists and the fact that the papers were moving from drawer to drawer to drawer. Nobody was handling the veterans and getting them in."

Foote was eventually able to break through and make the information public.

Meanwhile, management decided to move Pedene to a different position in the hospital.

She didn't lose any pay, but now she works in the library away from the media.

"I make $110,000 a year to make copies, to fax items for patients. To check in books, and to check out books," said Pedene.

She added that the hospital's financial situation would be better served if she were back on her old job.

"They're having this huge crisis," said Pedene. "They don't have the staff that they need (in the public information office) to manage the crisis. So they're spending more money by flying in public affairs officers from all over the country to help them handle the issue at hand, while I'm just sitting there in the library."

Pedene said that there are many dedicated and loyal employees working at the hospital, but they are working in an atmosphere of fear. They are looking over their shoulder, and many are not happy.

"I am not the only employee that is fighting the agency at the present time," she said. "There are dozens of employees that are in the same situation as I am in."

Pedene admitted that she has a little fear for her job after speaking with KTAR but believes that the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is doing the right thing by conducting an investigation.

Pedene didn't reveal whether or not she thinks investigators may uncover more wrongdoings at the hospital.

"In order to give them the latitude that they need, I think that we need to wait until they can release additional facts and figures that they might have," she said.

In Pedene's mind, the time for healing has come and that the hospital needs to make sure it is providing the excellent medical care that all veterans deserve.

About the Author

Years with the company: I started on January 2, 2006.

Education: I was born in San Antonio, Texas, but we moved to Phoenix when I was one-year-old in 1957. I grew up here and graduated from Alhambra High School and attended Phoenix College.

Family: I live in north Phoenix with my wife Rene' and my son Devin.

Favorite food: Lots of favorite food, but our favorite restaurant is Fajitas.

Favorite spot in Arizona: The Little America Hotel in Flagstaff.

Favorite news memory: We have to go back to October 15, 1979. I was a country music air personality at KROP Radio in Brawley, California, when we had a 6.7 earthquake. Thankfully, there were no deaths and only minor injuries, but the entire community was pretty freaked out and listening to the station on their transistor radios. I would not want to go through an earthquake again, but it sure was a great night to work in radio and see how it can make a difference in people's lives.

First job: Working as a stringer for 'The Arizona Republic' at high school football games. My first real job was flipping burgers at the old Sandy's Hamburgers at 51st Avenue and Indian School Road. My first radio job was as announcer at KALJ radio in Yuma in 1977.

First concert: My Dad took me to see Jimmy Dean at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in the 1960's. It was before the Coliseum was built. The only thing I remember is Jimmy Dean singing his big hit "Big Bad John."

Favorite sports team: Phoenix Roadrunners minor league hockey. My dad took me to a game when I was in grade school, and I was hooked. I wanted to be a radio hockey play-by-play man. I used to take my cassette recorder and sit up in the rafters of the Coliseum and do play-by-play. It was great later in life to also take my son to Roadrunners games. Too bad the team just folded, I'll miss them. (Going to the Coyotes is fun, but they're not "my" team.)

Outside interests: My family and I are active in our church - Shiloh Community Church in Phoenix. Devin is a high school student at Scottsdale Christian Academy. He plays on the baseball, football, and basketball teams and sings in the choir. Obviously, we keep busy trying to go to all his events! We enjoy going to movies, sporting events, and long road trips. We like to vacation at the Beach Cottages in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego. And I love to play catch, basketball, football with my son.


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