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Veterans Hear From New VA Roseburg Director At Town Hall

Rachael McDonald

The new interim Director of the Roseburg Veterans Administration Health Care system held a town hall this week on the Medical Center campus. This comes as the VA Office of the Medical Inspector prepares to release a full report on its investigation into complaints of bullying and a “toxic culture” at the facility.

Whitmer: “It is going to be a transformation going forward…”
About 100 people filled the auditorium at the Roseburg VA as interim Director David Whitmer outlined his agenda and took questions. Whitmer was brought in last month to replace Doug Paxton.
Complaints from nurses, doctors and staff from the Roseburg VA and its clinic in Eugene allege bullying and retaliation against employees. Paxton is one of several high-level administrators who was removed as a result of the investigation.
Jim Little is president of the Douglas County Veterans Advisory Committee. He says he was sorry to see Paxton go.
Jim Little: “Interim Director Whitmer is going to do, I think he’s going to do a diligent job. I’m impressed so far. So we’ll wait and see.”
Little says he’s concerned about continuing problems with middle management in the system. The chief of surgery Dinesh Ranjan was removed from his position in January. His wife was recently re-assigned as well. Little says he’s optimistic about the changes.

Credit Rachael McDonald

Little: “And slightly pessimistic. Veterans earned this benefit and they deserve it. When they walk into that door they should be getting the very best health care possible, always. I’m 100 % service connected so I can appreciate it.”
Little’s passion for the VA hospital here was echoed by others at the meeting. Sue Swanson is a veteran who only recently started accessing care.
Swanson: “Getting into the VA health care and having mental health, because of the sexual harassment we suffered in the service gave me a lifeline. I didn’t realize that I had been carrying this burden. It’s really important I think for many, many women.”
Swanson says she’s had positive experiences with most of the staff at the Roseburg VA.
Director Whitmer says he wants veterans and hospital staff to know that he is paying attention to the findings from the VA’s investigation.
Whitmer: “I really want to make sure that staff understands that management takes the concerns of bullying and retaliation very seriously and in order for us to provide a safe environment for care, we have to provide a safe environment for our employees.”
Whitmer says his goal for this town hall is to let people know changes that have been made and the process going forward. And to hear from veterans.
Whitmer: “Being open and transparent and having clear communications is part of how we regain trust back in the community of what we do. And also, I want to set a level of expectation for the new leader that comes on board.”
Whitmer is in the director position for a year. He was appointed to oversee changes as the Office of the Medical Inspector and VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection investigate allegations of bullying and retaliation against employees. There will be another town hall in Eugene next month.

Rachael McDonald is KLCC’s former News Director. Rachael has a BA in English from the University of Oregon. She started out in public radio as a newsroom volunteer at KLCC in 2000. After reporting for the Northwest News Network and KAZU, Rachael returned to KLCC in 2007 as Morning Edition host and a general assignment reporter covering politics, the environment, education, and the arts. She was hired as KLCC News Director in 2018. Rachael departed KLCC in June, 2022.
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