MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A former Central Alabama Veteran Health Care System neurologist is speaking out after he says he was fired for refusing orders to manipulate veteran patient records.
This comes weeks after National Public Radio published an article making claims the Veterans Affairs is entrenched with a management culture using fear and intimidation to prevent potential whistleblowers from talking.
Dr. William Lievens first experienced working with the VA in Miami and in Birmingham while going to medical school and completing his residency fellowship training.
"If you have never served your country then you need to have some part of your life spent serving those who have," said Dr. Lievens.
The 37-year-old physician has always taken providing patient care to veterans seriously.
"It is a real privilege and honor to be able to help treat these people that really deserve more than many," he said.
In 2016, after being in private practice for several of years, he accepted a position as a Neurologist with the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System.
"I took it very excitedly and very happily," Lievens said.
According to Lievens, he was seeing patients who had not been seen by a VA neurologist for as long as four years. He says the reason for this was it had been 4 years since CAVHCS had employed a staff neurologist prior to his employment.
"I would roughly see about 50 to 65 patients a week," he said. "Almost all my time was set to the clinic. I had one-half day a week for administrative time."
In addition to being a staff neurologist, he also served as the only sleep medicine physician on staff. Lievens did not mind the large workload, because he was doing what he loved.
"For me, the number concern was always patient care," said Lievens.
Lievens says it only took a few months before he was met with resistance for what he calls complete and detailed treatment for complex neurological diseases.
"It was an effort being told to make visits shorter, make notes shorter. Eventually, to the point I was being told to a degree almost to have omission, out of the record, kind of the full breadth and scope of what was going on to just be very narrow in what I was doing. Unfortunately, that doesn't really work with what these veterans have and a lot of conditions I treat," said Lievens.
Refusing to manipulate veterans patient records, Lievans says he was stripped of his remote access, taken off duty for eight months, suspended with pay, and ordered to show up only to sit in isolation.
"March through June basically, I would have to come to work, sit in the corner by myself, and sit there," said Lievens.
In June he received a letter of termination. He is now challenging the legitimacy and legality of the decision.
"Because I didn't succumb to the easy route, ultimately suffering the consequences for that," said Lievens.
After reading an NPR article which uncovered widespread retaliation against VA whistleblowers in Montgomery and Tuskegee, he realized he was not alone.
"It is nice to know I am not alone and it validates me for what I feel has been happening to me," said Lievens.
While his professional reputation is now in jeopardy, he still is focused on one thing.
"The bottom line is the people that really ultimately get affected by this are the veterans," said Lievens.
CAVHCS sent this statement:
"Due to privacy restrictions, we cannot discuss specifics regarding the individuals without their written consent. The VA does not tolerate retaliation. Any employee who feels he or she is experiencing retaliation should contact the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection."