Born in Iran, David Vatan attended medical school and came to live in the U.S.
David Vatan: This country I believe based on my observations is one of the best countries in the world.
He got a job in California working for a VA contractor under Lockheed Martin: QTC Medical Services.
Vatan’s job was to review medical files of Vietnam vets to see if they’re eligible for payments for injuries from Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide used to remove leaves off trees in jungles where the enemy hid.
David Vatan: By reviewing their files, I was honored and I felt that there is a purpose in what I do and at the end of the day every day I felt so good if I reviewed a file and I found the evidence that could benefit our veterans, that’s the least I could do.
Sharyl: So their ability to get payments or benefits hinged on the reviews that people like you were doing of their medical files?
David Vatan: Absolutely.
But Vatan says he quickly saw major problems at QTC: large numbers of vets denied benefits after he says their medical files weren’t properly reviewed.
Sharyl: What made you think that something wasn’t right?
David Vatan: I noticed that some of my co-workers are reviewing claim folders a lot faster than I did and then I realize some of them do not have the necessary background to review and understand the highly complex medical records. And, much to my surprise, some of them had only high school education.
QTC got $300-$350 per file. The faster the analysts worked, the more money QTC made.
Sharyl: How many files do you think could reasonably be reviewed in a day?
David Vatan: Uh, five or six based on my observation.
Sharyl: But some people were doing 50?
David Vatan: 50 and 60.
QTC staff emails confirmed the files were being pushed through in what Vatan sees as impossibly fast. “We are running behind” The staff were told. “We were 30 short.” “We did not do well yesterday.” “We need to make it up today.”
Vatan reported his concerns to QTC’s senior leadership and parent company, Lockheed Martin.
David Vatan: I approached the management, and I was challenged, and then I approached the Lockheed Martin Ethics Office.
Sharyl: How did you tell Lockheed Martin what you thought was going wrong?
David Vatan: I told them I believe it’s unethical, unprofessional and as a result based on the statistics that they have released, it’s unacceptable.
Sharyl: The company was getting a huge amount of tax dollars to conduct these reviews?
David Vatan: Absolutely. I think it’s close to 50 million dollars.
That’s your tax money.
Sharyl: What would they say?
David Vatan: They say, “we’ll look into it,” and they conducted several interviews with me, of course the ethics office did, and they took their time and then eventually they send me an email, they said, “your allegations were unsubstantiated.”
After blowing the whistle, Vatan says he faced harassment and retaliation. QTC’s CEO admonished him for “creating a disruptive work environment.” He was eventually fired for misconduct, which he denies.
Vatan filed a whistleblower suit in federal court, alleging fraud and retaliation. The case was dismissed. He’s appealing.
David Vatan: I felt that not only they’re defrauding for our government, but also at the same time they’re scamming and screwing our veterans.
Representative Phil Roe: If what he says is true, then- then these claims have not been properly adjudicated.
Congressman Phil Roe, Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, is looking into the handling of Agent Orange claims and Vatan’s allegations.
Representative Phil Roe: I think it needs to be investigated. I think we need to look at it. We certainly have asked the VA for an explanation for it here.
QTC has been under scrutiny before. A 2008 audit by the Inspector General found QTC overcharged taxpayers more than $6 million for vets’ medical exams. Yet four years later, QTC got the lucrative government contract to review Agent Orange claims.
Representative Phil Roe: I think the veterans deserve more for the money we're spending.
It wasn’t QTC that reviewed Rick Clevenger’s claim for Agent Orange but he knows what it’s like to be wrongly rejected. He was drafted into the Army at age 19, sent to Vietnam, and exposed to Agent Orange.
Rick Clevenger: From day one I was scared but I did my job, I served my country and I’m proud that I did that.
Four year ago, when he applied for compensation for Type Two Diabetes, one of several diseases officially linked to Agent Orange, his claim was inexplicably denied.
Rick Clevenger: Actually, I was pretty shocked. But that seems to be the norm for the VA: deny, deny, deny.
A veterans’ group intervened, and Clevenger says he finally received compensation of about $300 a month, plus prescription drug coverage.
Rick Clevenger: All of a sudden, you got a check come in and you can pay your bills and you can buy your food and you can live like a decent human being. I mean most people kinda stick their head in the sand when it comes to veterans’ issues. They just think that yes, you’re getting what you deserve and and that’s not the case.
The VA didn’t respond to our interview requests.
QTC declined to comment “due to ongoing litigation”.
Dr. Vatan hopes his story will make the VA and its contractors more accountable. And he still sees the U.S. as among the best countries the world.
Sharyl: I see you wearing an American pin, an American flag. Why is that?
David Vatan: I’m proud of this country. It’s one of the safest countries in the world and the safety and security that we all enjoy, we owe it to our veterans because they fought the wars outside of our border in the past.