Paula Pedene was a 20-year employee at the hospital who oversaw everything from news releases to the hospital newsletter to the annual veteran’s day parade. In 2010, Pedene joined a group that complained to the VA’s upper management about the phoenix hospital’s director. They alleged that the director had allowed budget shortfalls and berated subordinates. And it seemed to work. VA’s inspector general investigated and found an 11 million shortfall in the hospital’s budget. The director retired voluntarily. ‘I felt we had actually done the right thing,’ Pedene said. But that turned out to be the beginning of her troubles, not the end.”
-David Fahrenthold, The Washington Post
“At its core, VETERANS DAY is the story of one ordinary though a committed individual who found herself at war with an institution bent on erasing her. More than that, however, in confronting this particular Goliath, Paula Pedene discovered the David within her.”
VETERANS DAY is the true, first-person account of Paula Pedene, a blind, 54-year-old decorated Navy veteran who endured a campaign to destroy her personally and professionally before summoning the strength to battle back and help expose a conspiracy and cover-up that outraged the nation.
In 2010, Paula and a colleague blew the whistle on their bosses for financial mismanagement, sexual harassment, and workplace hostility at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix. After the top two leaders were ousted and a new administration arrived, she hoped it would mark a “fresh start” for the facility. But the incoming leadership, driven by merciless ambition and the sense they were untouchable, knew what she had done – and were determined not to let it happen to them.
What followed was an unrelenting two-year crusade whose goal was to break her. Paula’s superiors manufactured charges against her – knowing there was proof those charges were false. They rigged an investigative process, turning it into a kangaroo court-like weapon against her. They destroyed evidence. They stoked unfounded rumors about her, robbed her of due process, and denied her the right to face – or even know – her accusers. On the rare occasions when her letters did get a response, they denied, deflected, and lied to ensure the truth remained hidden.
It worked. Little by little, she started to unravel. Her depression, long under control, roared back. She began drinking. Her medical and legal bills mounted. Her strong faith was shaken. It took a toll on her family, too, as her marriage faced increasing stress, and she became more and more distant from her sons – both of whom were facing their own emotional crises.
As she neared rock bottom, Paula made a discovery: Hospital executives had been manipulating the scheduling process to show that veterans were waiting 14 days or less to get care, when in fact the wait times could be more than a year. While the leadership was falsifying data to make themselves look good, veterans were dying.
Paula faced a dilemma. Either walk away from it all and put the torment behind her or once more go up against a system that she knew first-hand was stacked against her. It was no choice. She had spent a lifetime supporting America’s veterans. This was no time for retreat.
Paula began working behind the scenes with a team that included a bulldog congressional investigator and an ornery VA doctor. But it was an uphill fight. VA hospitals had successfully dodged questions for years while gaming the scheduling system. VA officials had routinely accepted the rebuttals and explanations from Phoenix management. The media wanted to run with the story but needed evidence and on-the-record sourcing that could not be provided because of legal and ethical concerns.
Eventually, Paula and the team formulated a plan that paid off during a congressional hearing on April 9, 2014, when the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee revealed he had the names of 40 veterans who died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA hospital. In the ensuing firestorm, the executive leadership at the hospital was fired and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs was forced to resign. As details of the scandal continued to unfold, the nation learned that waitlist abuses spanned over 110 facilities in 19 states and Puerto Rico.