Montana VA delays dental care for much of 2017 after possible retaliatory firing attempt

The Montana Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Billings attempted to fire its only practicing dentist in possible retaliation for his bringing a whistleblower's case against the system, according to the Billings Gazette.

Here's what you need to know:

1. Kelly Hale, DDS, was the VA's only practicing dentist for much of 2017; however, he was barred from seeing patients since Jan. 2017 as the government reviewed his whistleblower retaliation case.

2. Dr. Hale exposed systemic delays at the VA that caused long wait times for patients through a whistleblower suit. An internal investigation of the allegations confirmed the claims, leading back to June 2016.

3. The allegations lead Robert Bourne, DDS, the VA's chief of dental services, to resign. However, he was quickly rehired with a $143,700 annual earning limit.

4. In December 2016, Montana VA director Kathy Berger ordered Dr. Hale to undergo a misconduct review. The VA then attempted to terminate Dr. Hale on alleged abuse of patients, disrespectful language and endangering the safety at a VA facility.

5. It was discovered Dr. Hale's misconduct review, however, may have been retaliatory after he was exposed as the whistleblower in the aforementioned case.

5. The Merit Systems Protection Board is considering the whistleblower retaliation case, putting Dr. Hale's termination on hold. While unable to see patients during this time, Dr. Hale still earned $176,399 in 2017.

6. The VA hired a new dentist to see patients, restoring dental care to the area. Through much of 2017, the VA referred patients to a clinic in Sheridan, Wyo., approximately 128 miles away.

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