Sign of the times: Hines VA Hospital photobombed by billboard

ABC7 I-Team Investigation

ByChuck Goudie and Christine Tressel WLS logo
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Hines VA Hospital photobombed by billboard
Ads that blast the Hines Veterans Hospital are placed in the shadow of the hospital itself.

MAYWOOD, Ill. (WLS) -- In a sign of the times, billboards are now up near the west end of the Eisenhower Expressway. The ads that blast the Hines Veterans Hospital are placed in the shadow of the hospital itself.

The bright yellow billboards cannot be missed and flash on separate digital displays visible in both directions of the Eisenhower near the exit for Edward Hines VA Hospital. Hines is the latest target of a national campaign to improve veterans medical care accountability by those who provide it. The billboards are funded by a group composed of veterans, current and former VA staffers, and some union leaders.

"The VA itself in my personal opinion doesn't like veterans - not the people at the VA - the institution itself doesn't like veterans because it makes it work," said Dr. Lisa Nee, former Hines cardiologist.

Dr. Nee says she has known for years what this billboard is trying to communicate to motorists near Maywood: that VA officials lie about the quality of medical care given to veterans and that veterans are dying because of it.

"It was donations from the outside. VA employees at Hines who are too afraid to come forward, but feel like this is a way to get the word out and that made it all the more powerful to us when you have people within Hines coming forward saying I'm too afraid to lose my job but," Dr. Nee said.

Among those backing the billboard is Germaine Clarno, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 781 at Hines. Clarno said Dr. Nee is one of those who tried to blow the whistle on reckless surgeries and deception by Hines hospital administrators. Dr. Nee said top officials at Hines tried to cover it up and punish her.

In June, a federal investigation upheld her complaints: finding that deficiencies in cardiovascular care at Hines resulted in unnecessary heart surgeries, diagnostic errors and one doctor created bogus data intended to falsely boost productivity.

"When no one is held accountable, no one is going to come forward. So actually, vets are more at risk now more than ever," said Dr. Nee.

Twenty-four hours after the I-Team asked Hines VA Hospital and the Department of Veterans Affairs for a response to this report and the billboards, we received a statement.

"We are aware of the two billboards along the Eisenhower Expressway saying 'VA is Lying Veterans are Dying!' stated Denise Van Koevering, acting public affairs director at Hines. "To this, the Department of Veteran's Affairs respects any other organization's or individual's right to express their opinion."

As for the allegations of medical misconduct and professional malfeasance, Van Koevering told the I-Team: "Employees at Hines work diligently to create a collaborative, problem solving environment that we hope creates an environment that is conducive to the needs of our Veterans."

Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, a champion of veterans' rights, said in a statement: "Whistle-blowers at Hines VA have exposed a dark side of the VA that should have no place in our veterans' health care."