Can Iowa handle the truth at IVH?
Remember the movie “A Few Good Men” when Tom Cruise, who played Lieutenant Danny Kaffee, was cross-examining the bully Base Commander Colonel Nathan Jessup played by Jack Nicholson, regarding the use of “Code Red”?
According to the script, Code Red was a self-policing policy and a form of punishment that was doled out when military staff didn’t follow orders or broke the chain of command.
In the movie, a private doesn’t follow the chain of command and so a gang of soldiers is ordered to perform a Code Red to “teach him a lesson.”
They grab him, bound and gag him and put him in a blanket and beat on him. However, he died from asphyxiation during the beating.
Kaffee riddles the colonel with questions, causing the colonel to lose his temper. Finally, Kaffee says, “I want the truth!”
The colonel shouts back, “You can’t handle the truth!”
The colonel ultimately incriminates himself, admitting he gave the Code Red order that resulted in the death.
That scene of the movie reminds me of what is happening at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown.
It appears to me those in power can’t handle the truth.
I first heard about the problems at IVH in early March. My first thought was this was a labor-management problem.
However, the more I heard, the more I understood there were too many examples of horrendous behavior by the commandant for this to simply be a few disgruntled employees.
So, on March 15 I asked eight former and current IVH employees to come to my office for an off-the-record meeting in order to hear firsthand what these complaints entailed.
I also asked the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, State Senator Daryl Beall, to attend the meeting.
The management level people attending told stories that were credible and shocking. Many of them read their testimonies from the complaint reports they had already filed with the state in accordance with the state’s procedures in place when employees have charges against high level managers such as the commandant.
However, the group members said when they filed the confidential complaint reports with the state, the commandant always found out and would scream at them, threaten them, intimidate them, demote them and, in some cases, even fire people for making any complaints.
Those present told stories about sexual harassment, about the commandant laying hands on one of them and swearing and screaming that “he had guns, that he had a brother in prison for murder and that they should not F- – – with him.”
Another former employee, a doctor, said the commandant threatened him and tried to bully him into signing off on a medical record discharge for a resident that he did not feel, professionally, was ready to end treatment.
The stories went on for 90 minutes.
Anyone hearing these charges from this group would be able to readily tell the stories were believable and the people telling them were afraid for their lives because of the threats and intimidation they had experienced.
After the meeting, Senator Beall said he would talk to the governor. The group of eight felt some hope that their fear and ordeal would soon be over.
I sent a message to the governor’s office to let him know I had serious concerns about IVH and would like to discuss the concerns with him.
Instead, a few hours later, I received a call from the commandant.
I felt like the person who called the farmer to complain about the fox and the fox called back.
Something wasn’t right.
Suddenly, the breach in confidentiality the employees had reported seemed to have added credibility.
A few days later, the governor’s chief of staff called and said he and another of the governor’s staff would be visiting Marshalltown on April 12 and wanted to meet with me. I asked if I could invite the eight people who I had met with on March 15 so they could hear firsthand what I had heard. But he said they’d only meet with me.
And so, I met with them and related what had been said to me but I wish they would have allowed me to invite the people who could have given them the story firsthand.
Then, Senator Beall called for a hearing on May 6 before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. He invited all the people who gave testimony in my office as well as several others.
Many of those who had told their stories in my office were so afraid of the commandant they refused to go to the hearing because they were afraid to be in the same room with him. However, there was still very compelling testimony enough, it was thought, to move it up to the Government Oversight Committee.
The advantage would be the Joint House-Senate Government Oversight Committee has subpoena power and functions more like a courtroom. All of those people would give testimony because they would be subpoenaed and all would be sworn in and would have to tell the truth or face perjury.
But, alas, it is not going to happen.
After intense lobbying efforts by the governor’s office, the House refused to cooperate so there will be no Joint Oversight meeting, no sworn oath and no threat of perjury.
I should add, at this point, that this column is not intended to be a political statement. I am a Republican and have long supported the governor. We simply have a disagreement.
In my business, if I had credible people bringing forth these kinds of complaints about one of my managers, I would place the accused on paid leave and use every resource available to me to check out the claims.
I wish that is what the governor would do.
The citizens of Iowa can handle the truth and they certainly deserve to know.
Mike Schlesinger is the publisher and general manager of the Times-Republican.