ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal
A chaplain at the Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center in Albuquerque contends in a federal lawsuit that her supervisor chaplain improperly accessed her medical records and used information from her psychological profile to torment her.
Kathleen Waltz contends that Ronald Cok used his VA credentials to obtain information about mental health treatment she received for sexual trauma she suffered while serving in the U.S. Armed forces from 1969 to 1976.
After she complained about a violation of federal privacy laws, Waltz contends in the lawsuit that both the VA Medical Center and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed a privacy violation occurred.
Yet VA officials allowed Cok to continue supervising Waltz and ultimately moved her away from her colleagues into a crowded and unsuitable office, depriving her of the “resources necessary to perform her duties as Chaplain,” her lawsuit alleges.
As a result, Waltz contends that she “suffers from severe emotional distress including nightmares, panic attacks, sleeplessness, paranoia, fear and other PTSD symptoms.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs denied her claims in January and she subsequently filed a lawsuit.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office is representing Cok after determining he was acting in his official capacity as a federal employee. It has denied Waltz’s allegations.
Cok couldn’t be reached for comment.
Waltz said she was hired as a palliative chaplain at the VA Medical Center in Albuquerque in August 2009. Shortly thereafter, she contends she noticed mistreatment by Cok of a subordinate female employee and witnessed him talking about the employee in a derogatory manner to another chaplain.
After she confronted Cok “and informed him that this behavior needed to stop” Waltz alleges in her lawsuit that he began a campaign of harassment and mistreatment of her.
At the time she was hired at the VA Medical Center, she also sought mental health treatment for sexual trauma that occurred years earlier.
Her VA records “contain extremely sensitive psychological testing and analyses and include a complete psychological profile” that dated back to her childhood.
She alleges in court records that Cok used that information to “torment” her and that the mistreatment escalated in May 2011 when Cok confronted her in her office, blocked her exit, and engaged in threatening behavior.
“After that incident, Plaintiff understood that Chaplain Cok’s treatment of her could only be explained by his knowledge of details of her psychological profile.”
After that meeting, her lawsuit states,Waltz went to the VA’s Release of Information Office, which confirmed that Cok had “improperly accessed her medical records on two occasions on Nov. 8, 2009.”
Since learning of the violation, her lawsuit states, she was unable to sleep for more than an hour or two at a time and memories of her military sexual trauma began to overwhelm her.
“Plaintiff was humiliated by her supervisor’s intrusion into her most private aspects of her life.”
The lawsuit faults VA officials for failing to address the harassment.
Other chaplains told her she should leave or move to another floor, her lawsuit alleges, and VA representatives advised her to drop her complaints and “not bring it up again.”
There was no attempt during this time by the VA to change Cok’s continued supervision of Waltz, her lawsuit states.
“Plaintiff has had to seek mental health treatment, using her paid time off leave from VAMC,” the lawsuit states.
VA officials in Albuquerque had no immediate response to a Journal request for comment on the lawsuit.