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VA doctor gets $1 million to ‘do nothing,’ while VA forced to keep him on staff

Operating room (Jeff Kubina/Flickr)
November 27, 2017

A recent investigation has found that one Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) neurosurgeon has been paid more than $1 million in salary over the course of three and a half years even though he did not see patients and had “no job responsibilities,” after he was suspended following questions concerning his treatment of five anonymous patients.

The G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi, even fired Dr. Mohamed Eleraky in Aug. 2016, but has since had to hire him back after the VA Disciplinary Appeals Board found in April that claims against Eleraky were not substantiated. There is pending litigation between the VA and the doctor concerning his treatment of five anonymous patients.

Eleraky has been paid an annual salary of $339,177 over the course of three and a half years, after he was initially suspended in June 2013. During much of that time, he did not even see patients or do work.

VA Medical Center (Twitter)

That’s more than $1.1 million in salary for essentially sitting in his office doing nothing, the Clarion Ledger has found.

The doctor was suspended from surgery after local VA officials questioned his treatment of at least five anonymous patients – one of whom received a spinal fusion from Eleraky that went wrong, and the patient is only now regaining feeling in his right hand, four years later.

While VA officials are still exploring options for other disciplinary actions against Eleraky, the doctor had also taken action himself.

Eleraky filed a complaint in federal court against the VA Medical Center in 2015 that alleges the discipline he’s received has been improper, the Ledger reported. Eleraky was initially suspended from surgery in 2013 and later had all his clinical privileges suspended in 2014.

During this time, Eleraky “has not performed any surgeries,” the Ledger reported, and the doctor “didn’t even see patients, relegated instead to ‘sitting in his office with no job responsibilities,’ according to the lawsuit.”

The VA has released a statement since Eleraky’s reinstatment:

In April, VA was forced to reinstate Dr. Mohamed Eleraky, whom we had fired in August of 2016. 

Dr. Eleraky is not presently in a surgical position, but (Veteran Affairs) Secretary (David) Shulkin has made clear that any VA doctors who were hired for clinical positions are required to practice in a clinical position caring for patients.

If the medical center leadership does not feel Dr. Eleraky is able to resume surgical duties, we will ensure he is moved to caring for patients in a clinical, non-surgical capacity, and adjust his salary downward to reflect his new role.

If medical center leaders do not believe Dr. Eleraky is qualified to treat patients altogether, then he should be removed from VA employment or transferred to a VA administrative position with an administrative/non-clinical care salary.

Also, we are exploring whether additional grounds exist to pursue other disciplinary actions for Dr. Eleraky with a new set of facts.

“The VA first suspended Eleraky’s operating privileges in July 2013, less than two years after he was hired as a neurosurgeon to the center’s medical staff,” the Ledger reported. “Eleraky claims in his lawsuit that officials did not explain the reason for his suspension, nor did he receive a fair disciplinary hearing.”

And, his attorney, Whitman Johnson III, said “the initial suspension arose out of an alleged surgical complication that is ‘actually a common outcome for this type of procedure,'” the Ledger reported.

Almost a year later, in April 2014, the VA suspended Eleraky from seeing patients entirely.

“Dr. Eleraky’s privileges remained suspended with no results or action taken for over 2 years. During that time, he was relegated to sitting in his office with no job responsibilities, effectively stigmatizing him,” according to Eleraky’s amended Nov. 6 complaint, the Ledger reported.

When Eleraky complained to VA headquarters about his suspension, he was fired in Aug. 2016.

However, after the VA Disciplinary Appeals Board found that claims against Eleraky could not be proven, he returned to the VA Medical Center.

He is not currently in a patient care position.

“[Eleraky] is not in a patient care position, nor will he ever be until it is clear he has the requisite skills to practice neurosurgery,” Jackson VA Director David Walker said in a statement, the Ledger reported.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs gave the Clarion Ledger a statement that said “if local officials do not believe Eleraky can resume surgical duties, he should be transferred to a nonsurgical clinical position with a lower salary.”

And: “If medical center leaders believe he cannot provide patient care altogether, the statement continued, he should be terminated or given an administrative, non-clinical position with corresponding pay,” the Ledger reported.