A manager at the Roudebush Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Indianapolis appears to mock the mental health problems of returning combat veterans in an email to her employees.
The email obtained by The Indianapolis Star contains photographs of a toy Christmas elf posing as a patient in what appears to be the hospital’s transitional clinic for returning veterans. In one photograph, the elf pleads for Xanax. In another, he hangs himself with an electrical cord.
The woman who sent the email is Robin Paul, a licensed social worker who manages the hospital’s Seamless Transition Integrated Care Clinic. The clinic provides returning veterans with transition assistance, including mental health and readjustment services.
When initially asked about the email, Paul responded, “Oh my goodness.” She then referred a reporter to the hospital’s public affairs department, which emailed The Star a statement on her behalf.
“I would like to sincerely apologize for the email message and I take full responsibility for this poor judgment,” Paul said. “I have put my heart and soul into my work with Veterans for many years. I hold all Veterans and military personnel in the highest regard and am deeply remorseful for any hurt this may have caused.”
Julie Webb, a Roudebush spokeswoman, said administrators were made aware of the email “a couple of months ago.”
“The email is totally inappropriate and does not convey our commitment to veterans,” she said. “We apologize to our veterans and take suicide and mental health treatment seriously, striving to provide the highest quality.”
Webb said the issue was “administratively addressed.” She declined to provide specifics, citing employee confidentiality.
Paul remains employed at the hospital and continues to manage the clinic, earning an annual salary of $79,916. She received a $2,000 performance bonus in 2013, records show. More recent bonus information was not immediately available.
The Dec. 18 email was sent to the “IND STICC Team” with the subject, “Naught Elf in the STICC clinic.”
“So, photos have appeared that indicate that the STICC clinic may have been invaded,” the email says. “Looks like this magical character made his way through a few areas.”
One photo depicts the elf peering between the legs of a female doll. “Trying his skills as a primary care provider (doing a pap),” the email says.
Another shows the elf next to a sticky note with the words, “Out of XANAX — please help!” A caption says, “Self-medicating for mental health issues when a CNS would not give him his requested script.”
A third photograph shows the elf hanging from a strand of Christmas lights. “Caught in the act of suicidal behavior (trying to hang himself from an electrical cord),” the email says.
It is unclear from the email whether other VA employees were involved in the joke, but a note visible in one photo appears to include directions about passing the elf to others.