Veterans Administration Hiring Draws Criticism, Sparks Investigation After Death

During the summer of 2010 a taxpayer-funded business trip to a Veterans Administration conference in Dallas turned deadly when a VA employee died, falling out of a moving government-issued vehicle after leaving a bar in Addison.

NBC 5 Investigates discovered the driver of the vehicle landed another high-paying job within the Veterans Administration. Now, Congressional investigators want to know how that happened.

In 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, visiting Dallas for a VA conference.

Wheat and the other passenger were also VA employees.

On police interrogation video, Fillingim recalled the woman falling out of the truck, saying that he “didn’t even know she was out the door. I didn’t even know.”

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 within days of the incident in 2010, records obtained by NBC 5 Investigates show a Government Inspector General’s office launched its own investigation in the use of a government truck for a night out at the bars.

The investigation found that Fillingim did not have a valid driver’s license and gave false information when he checked out the government vehicle.

Investigators with the U.S. General Services Administration also determined Fillingim was “operating the vehicle intoxicated” and “for personal use.” Police tested Fillingim’s blood alcohol about six hours after the incident. It registered at.03, which is below the legal limit but still against Government rules which prohibit drinking and driving Government vehicles.

The VA Inspector General report and personnel records obtained by NBC5 Investigates indicate Fillingim resigned from the VA in Mississippi in November 2010,

But four months later, personnel records show Fillingim landed a new job with the VA in August, Georgia.

“Why this person hasn’t been fired is beyond me”, said Darin Selnick a former VA Administrator who reviewed the records at the request of NBC5 Investigates.

Selnick, now an independent consultant on veteran’s issues said he cannot understand why the VA would re-hire the man given the findings of the investigation into the Addison incident.

“For them to not only re-hire him but re-hire him on a very fast track- that is really abnormal- really shows a lack of judgment at a minimum”, Selnick said.

Today, Fillingim is still working for the VA in Georgia making a six-figure salary.

“There’s a culture within this administration, they don’t want to seem to hold anybody accountable for doing something wrong,” said Congressman Jeff Miller, Florida.

Miller wants to know if the case is another instance of what he sees as a VA culture which fails to take action for serious mistakes.

Last year a government audit found the VA paid bonuses to doctors reprimanded for serious violations like refusing to see patients and even practicing without a medical license.

The Veterans Affairs committee Miller chairs wrote a letter asking the VA to turn in all records on the Addison case within ten days. That request was filed three months ago but the committee is still waiting.

“The VA needs to quit being afraid of disciplining people and firing them,” said Miller.  Citing privacy laws, the VA would not answer questions about the decision to hire Fillingim for that new job in Georgia.

NBC 5 Investigates reached Fillingim by phone but he declined to talk about the incident, or his employment, saying he feels like, “That’s on the VA to answer those questions.”

The circumstances of the Addison incident only came to light because the NBC station in Washington D.C. discovered documents from a request and shared the information with NBC 5 Investigates which investigated further.

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