View Full Version : Rep. wants probe of VA psychologist firing

02-16-09, 08:14 AM
Rep. wants probe of VA psychologist firing
The Associated Press
Posted : Sunday Feb 15, 2009 15:16:10 EST

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Tennessee congressman has intervened in the case of a psychologist who was fired from the Memphis Veterans Medical Center for her handling of a phone call from a distraught Iraq war veteran.

Rep. Steve Cohen sent a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki asking for an investigation into the firing of clinical psychologist Sidney Ornduff, The Commercial Appeal in Memphis reported.

Cohen, a Memphis Democrat, compared Ornduff’s popularity to that of Florence Nightingale, the 19th-century nurse known for advising and comforting wounded soldiers.

“I want him to investigate and see what happened, to look into that case and, if possible, encourage her to come back because I think she’s a star,” he said.

Cohen said it’s wrong for the administration and veterans to lose Ornduff as a resource.

Memphis VA spokeswoman Willie Logan released a statement late last week saying the agency wasn’t aware of Cohen’s letter but would respond to any request made by Shinseki.

Cohen’s letter marks the latest development in a nearly two-year ordeal that began in the early morning hours of April 2, 2007, when veteran Jared Rhine called the Memphis VA and demanded to speak to Ornduff.

The clinical psychologist was coordinator of a six-week residential program for veterans suffering combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rhine, who lives in West Plains, Mo., had completed the program just two days before the call. He told the medical administrative assistant he had a gun and a phone and chose to contact Ornduff instead of hurting himself. The assistant patched Rhine through to Ornduff’s home phone. After more than two hours, the psychologist convinced Rhine not to hurt himself and go to bed.

Soon after Rhine hung up, local police officers entered his bedroom, used a stun gun on him and took him to the hospital. An emergency room doctor allowed Rhine to go home after determining he wasn’t a danger to himself or anyone else.

Ornduff said when her phone rang again that night, the administrative assistant told her a West Plains police officer wanted to speak to her. The administrative assistant had listened to the entire phone call, she said, and relayed information to police.

In September 2007, after an internal investigation into Ornduff’s handling of the phone call, she was fired. The hospital claimed Ornduff exhibited questionable clinical judgment.

A federal arbitrator’s decision in September called her termination “totally unreasonable,” restored her to the coordinator position and awarded her back pay. Ornduff returned to the VA in October but was given administrative responsibilities and no patient contact. Within weeks, she resigned.

Ornduff said Friday she’s heartened by Cohen’s intervention, adding that his support underscores the effect the case has had on her and the veteran community.

“It feels like there is validation,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that it took someone outside of the VA system to finally acknowledge that what happened to me was wrong,” she said.

Some veterans were surprised to hear about the congressman’s request.

“What I’d like to see happen is Dr. O vindicated in full and have a full apology,” said Ken Fields, a Vietnam veteran from Jonesboro, Ark. “Every one of us would love to have her back.”

Rhine, the veteran who made the early morning call, said he’s glad someone is seeking an investigation.

“I already know she done the right thing,” he told the Memphis newspaper. “But I still want (an investigation) to happen. That way everybody else will know what I already know.”