Governor Terry Branstad has created a new position at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown for retired Brig. Gen. Jodi Tymeson, a former state legislator who currently directs the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs.
Strangely, the governor and his staff deny having any concerns about the leadership of Iowa Veterans Home Commandant David Worley.
Yesterday the Iowa Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a long hearing about conditions at the Iowa Veterans Home, which houses more than 600 veterans and/or spouses. O.Kay Henderson posted the full audio (more than two hours) and highlights from the hearing at Radio Iowa. William Petroski covered the testimony for the Des Moines Register. Several former residents or employees spoke of alleged bullying and harassment. According to Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Daryl Beall, some current employees told him privately that they wanted to testify but feared retaliation. I was particularly disturbed to read this:
Dr. Mark Minear, former director of the Veterans Home Mental Health Department, told the committee that the administration "was extremely angry" with his advocacy for veterans with mental illness or substance abuse problems.
"Taxpayers who care about veterans need to ask" why Branstad and others tolerate such a situation, Minear said.
Commandant Worley was one of the few appointees Branstad retained from Governor Chet Culver's administration. He was named to run the Iowa Veterans Home just a few months before the 2010 election. Yesterday Branstad's spokesman Tim Albrecht told journalists that the governor has confidence in Worley's leadership and conditions at the home.
Which makes today's announcement quite odd. Here is the press release from the governor's office:
Gen. Jodi Tymeson to assume new role as Chief Operating Officer of the Iowa Veterans Home
May 7, 2013
Gov. Branstad announced today that retired Brig. Gen. Jodi Tymeson is resigning her post as head of Department of Veterans Affairs to assume her new role as the Chief Operating Officer of the Iowa Veterans Home.
"I want to thank Gen. Tymeson for her great work as director of the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs," said Gov. Branstad. "Her tremendous leadership capabilities will be a great asset as we bring the level of care for our veterans to the next level. I am pleased Jodi is again answering the call to service for her fellow Iowans."
Tymeson's first day will be May 28.
Tymeson served in the Iowa Army National Guard from 1974-2007. While there, she graduated from officer candidate school and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1982. She served as platoon leader, company commander, battalion commander and troop command commander - responsible for 3,450 soldiers.
"I am honored to serve in this new role, alongside Commandant David Worley and the wonderful staff at the Iowa Veterans Home," said Tymeson. "The Veterans Administration recently gave a sterling review to the Iowa Veterans Home, and we want to continue to exceed the high standard of care that currently exists at the home. As I leave the Director's position, I want to express my deep gratitude to the hard working and dedicated team at the Department and the Iowa Veterans Cemetery."
Tymeson was selected to attend the Army War College as a national security fellow at Harvard University's JFK School of Government, graduating in 1999. She is the first female promoted to brigadier general in the Iowa Army National Guard. She retired in 2007 with 33 years of service.
Tymeson's husband, John, is a retired brigadier general, following his 34 years of military service. He is a Vietnam veteran, and currently serves as chair of the board of directors at the Food Bank of Iowa.
"General Tymeson's reputation as a thoughtful, effective administrator is second-to-none," said Commandant David Worley, who heads the Iowa Veterans Home. "We will work together to carry forward the mission of the Iowa Veterans Home and ensure that every veteran receives the highest quality standard of care."
Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds added, "This is an exciting time for the Iowa Veterans Home, and General Tymeson will ensure the standard of care our veterans expect and deserve. I am excited to see her take on this challenge as a continuation of her long service for the people of Iowa.
Tymeson also served as a full-time 6th grade teacher at Cedar Heights Elementary in Cedar Falls from 1988-1992, and taught as a substitute teacher from 1993-1998.
From 2001-2010, Tymeson served nearly 30,000 constituents as a state representative for Madison, Warren and Dallas Counties. She served as House Education Committee chair for four years, in addition to a number of other committee assignments.
Gov. Branstad will begin the search for Tymeson's replacement immediately.
Again, Branstad's communications director insisted that Branstad has total confidence in Worley.
"He will be the name, the voice, the face and the person who creates the overall vision of the Iowa Veterans Home," Albrecht told reporters. "...General Jodi Tymeson is going to oversee the day-to-day efforts. She's going to oversee the departments and the staff who work within those departments to ensure that those residents of the Iowa Veterans Home get the care they deserve and the care that Iowans expect them to have."
On Monday afternoon about a dozen people testified at a public hearing about Worley, accusing him of being a bully. A long-term care advocate said residents told her they felt as if the home had become a prison. Albrecht said this change in management of the home has been "in the works" for a while.
"This is unrelated to anything that was aired yesterday and, in fact, David Worley has the governor's full faith and confidence," Albrecht said. "...These kind of decisions aren't just made overnight. This has been a long process and one that everyone believes will continue to offer the high-quality care to Iowa's veterans."
Really? The governor is so pleased with conditions at the Iowa Veterans Home that he decided to create a whole new position for Jodi Tymeson to run the place, leaving Commandant Worley as a figurehead?
It's unusual for a state department director to leave that position for "number two" job in a different state entity. Tymeson is highly regarded and capable by all accounts. That's probably why she is one of very few Bob Vander Plaats supporters tapped for a high-profile job in the Branstad administration. (Tymseon co-chaired Vander Plaats' 2010 campaign for governor.)
I don't really understand why the governor is clinging to the idea that he has no concerns about the current management of the veterans' home. Clearly he must have been aware of some problems if they've been planning to shift Tymeson to a chief operating officer role.
Yesterday Democratic State Senator Steve Sodders, who represents the Marshalltown area, demanded a full investigation into the allegations aired at the Senate hearing.
"Serious issues have been raised today, issues that could negatively impact the care of veterans at the Iowa Veterans Home.
"For the last year, I've met with Iowans who currently work or have worked at the Iowa Veterans Home under Commandant David Worley and under other commandants.
"I've listened to these Iowans describe what appears to be hostile work environment at the Veterans Home, including allegations of mistreatment, sexual harassment.
"That's why I am asking Governor Branstad to put Commandant Worley on administrative leave so a thorough investigation can be done by the Iowa Attorney General's office with the assistance of the Department of Criminal Investigation.
"I will also request that the Senate Oversight Committee review these allegations of a hostile work environment,
"Finally, based on the information I had gathered before today's meeting, and what we have heard today, I have serious doubts that Commandant Worley should continue in his position and would not vote for his re-appointment."
Sodders released the following statement about today's news:
"The appointment of retired Brig. Gen. Jodi Tymeson as Chief Operating Officer is a positive, first step toward restoring confidence at the Iowa Veterans Home and ensuring the proper treatment of veterans and IVH employees.
"In light of this new appointment, I renew my call for the Governor to put Commandant Worley on leave until there is a thorough, formal investigation of persistent problems at the Iowa Veterans Home."
UPDATE: The Marshalltown Times-Republican newspaper is also calling for Worley to be suspended pending a "complete investigation of the allegations" aired at Monday's Iowa Senate hearing.
SECOND UPDATE: Excerpt from a Marshalltown Times-Republican report by David Alexander:
Richard Schrad, retired director of Resident & Family Services, said he is baffled at how Worley still has a job. Worley's actions go well beyond what is considered appropriate workplace conduct, some of which include regularly punctuating conversations with details about his gun collection and making sexually charged comments to staff members and aggressively degrading remarks to residents.
"Is any of this OK for a top administrator of any company in this day and age?" he said.
Jodi Tymeson, of the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs, said it has been her experience that IVH has a great staff doing great work. She noted how IVH meets all 158 standards of care quality.
Nearly everyone who spoke said IVH staff do a great job taking care of the veterans, and Worley's critics said the staff works hard to insulate residents from Worley's overbearing demeanor.
Worley said he welcomes any examination of his work, and if there is a problem with resident care, he wants to know about.
However, many who commented, including Sodders, also noted a shift to at-will employment as a factor for a lack of people coming forward. He said an employee who is at-will and believes they will be fired as a retaliation would not likely speak out.
MAY 13 UPDATE: Branstad addressed this issue at his weekly press conference. O. Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa,
"She can help Commandant Worley address some," Branstad told reporters this morning, but he didn't finish that sentence before he moved on to another. "And I would also say, you know, most importantly the veterans who are residents of that home get the best possible care and we are confident that is the case. We want to make sure it continues to be."
The state senator who represents Marshalltown has called on the governor to place the commandant on paid administrative leave while questions about his management are investigated, but Branstad said that won't happen.
"I think this has got a lot to do with politics and I think it's got a lot to do with personalities," Branstad said this morning. "But the fact is I think we have a very dedicated public servant and I guess I don't appreciate people using character assassination and attacking people with second-hand information."
I don't understand the governor's choice here. Obviously he is aware of problems that need to be addressed at the veterans home. Otherwise, creating a new job for Tymeson makes no sense. Why not acknowledge that problems exist, instead of pretending Worley's critics are engaging in "character assassination"?
Also, it's not "second-hand information" when people testify to the Iowa Senate about problems they directly observed at the facility.