The mother of a woman who died after falling from a moving government vehicle is demanding answers from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs after they rehired the hospital administrator who resigned his position following the 2010 accident in which he was the driver.
In partnership with NBC in Washington, NBC 5 Investigates has obtained a 2011 drafted memo showing top administrators at the VA held a meeting just three months after rehiring Jed Fillingim to find out how he landed another job with the agency.
InvestigativeVA Hiring Investigated Following Woman’s Death
On a summer night in June 2010, a man called 911 to report a woman had fallen out of a moving truck along a street in Addison. During the emergency call, the passenger said he and the driver went back to pick her up.
When police officers arrived they found 38-year-old Amy Wheat dead in the back seat of a government truck.
Addison police questioned the two men who were in the truck. At the time, the driver, Jed Fillingim, was a top administrator at the VA hospital in Jackson, Mississippi and was visiting Dallas for a VA conference.
Wheat and the other passenger were also VA employees.
On police interrogation video, Fillingim told police after visiting some bars, the three left together and somehow Wheat fell out of the truck.
“I looked back and she wasn’t there. She wasn’t there. I said, ‘Where is she?’” Fillingim told police.
In the end, police found no evidence of foul play and they determined Wheat fell out of the vehicle on her own; Fillingim was not charged with any crime.
But then, federal investigators later learned Fillingim did not have a valid driver’s license when he checked out the government truck and he violated government rules by drinking and driving.
Personnel records show Fillingim resigned months after the 2010 incident. But four months later, the VA rehired him for another job in Georgia where he earned a six-figure salary.
Wheat’s mom is outraged.
“No criminal punishment, no VA punishment and he’s making the same salary in the same position and I just can’t understand why it happened,” said Annette Berry, Wheat’s mother.
NBC 5 Investigates took the 2011 drafted memo to Darin Selnick, a former deputy administrator of the VA.
“They knew they had a big problem because these people don’t get together unless they have a big problem.
The draft memo shows the administrator who rehired Fillingim, “was aware of the employee’s previous resignation, but did not ask the employee why the employee resigned because she was not on the interview panel.”
It also stated on his job application Fillingim “did not answer affirmatively to the question regarding whether he resigned in lieu of removal or by mutual consent due to unfavorable circumstances.”
“By the VA’s own standards and pride in who they hire, they should’ve never hired this guy back,” said Selnick.
In a statement the VA said, “We are changing our culture, which includes acknowledging when we have not lived up to these values in some cases. The hiring process regarding this employee that took place three years ago is deeply regrettable and not as thorough as it should have been.”
InvestigativeCongressman Demands VA Explain Executive's Re-Hiring
Berry still struggles with her daughter’s death.
“She was wonderful. She was the love of my life,” Berry said.
And she wants the VA to take action against the man who broke rules the night Amy died.
“I just feel like he took my life and you’re never the same. You never get over it and people say time heals. Time does not heal,” Berry said.
In a statement, Fillingim wrote, “While I am unable to comment specifically about my status, I will say that I followed all rules and requirements for Federal employment in 2011. I acknowledge having made mistakes in the past that I am deeply regretful of but I remain fully committed to the mission of the VA and the Veterans we serve.”
Members of congress also have concerns about this case and have been asking the VA to turn over more records about how Filligim was rehired since they saw our reports earlier this year.