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Pittsburgh VA physician to lose job

| Friday, Jan. 15, 2010

A top Pittsburgh Veterans Affairs physician, who got her job back temporarily after congressional intervention, is about to be terminated from her position as the head of radiology in the Pittsburgh facility.

VA officials have issued a formal notice of termination effective Jan. 25 to Dr. Anna Chacko, who has been on administrative leave from the University Drive facility since October.

Chacko, who came to Pittsburgh in 2008 after a career in the Army and a stint in private practice, was first placed on involuntary leave in mid-May, but then was allowed to return to her job after U.S. Rep. Brad Miller, a North Carolina Democrat, wrote to U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki questioning the action.

In his May 15 letter, Miller charged that the process leading to Chacko's suspension raised "serious questions about management and rudimentary procedural fairness. There is something very wrong in the management of the VAPHS."

Miller said in an interview Thursday that his staff had been advised that Chacko was being terminated.

Chacko declined to comment. VA spokesman David E. Cowgill wrote in an e-mail that he was barred from commenting on personnel matters because of privacy rules.

Miller said he wrote to Shinseki because of concerns about the management of the Pittsburgh veterans facility that surfaced during an unrelated investigation by his subcommittee.

The panel issued a highly critical report about the destruction of a 30-year-old research collection of Legionella bacteria assembled by Victor Yu, a University of Pittsburgh professor. Yu has a pending lawsuit against the VA.

Miller said he wrote the letter because "it appeared that a VA hospital which was given to infighting was proceeding in the same way again."

He said the 2008 investigation showed management at the Pittsburgh VA "appeared to be chaotic and a very valuable collection was destroyed out of spite."

The congressman said the Legionella investigation concluded that local VA officials "proceeded in the wrong direction for the wrong reasons."

He said that assuming the VA followed proper procedures in Chako's termination, he did not plan further involvement.

Chacko had been suspended from her job in the spring but was reinstated in late summer, only to be placed on administrative leave in October. The termination letter was issued last week.

While they have declined to comment on the issues leading to Chacko's suspension and termination, VA officials said an internal investigation refuted claims by Chacko that patient care might have been compromised by excessive radiation during treatments.

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