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Drunk VA pathologist gets 20 years in veteran’s death

by Doug Thompson | January 22, 2021 at 2:10 p.m.
Dr. Robert Morris Levy

FAYETTEVILLE — Judy Gibbs Velosky of Fort Smith, a self-described daddy’s girl, dropped plans for a November wedding so she and her groom could marry in her father’s hospital room while John Ray Gibbs still lived.

Gibbs died days later at the age of 61 on July 26, 2014 — five months after the then-chief pathologist at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks in Fayetteville, missed his cancer diagnosis. A second pathologist had disputed the finding, but medical records passed along by Robert Morriss Levy didn’t reflect that dissent, according to court testimony.

Levy received a 20-year prison sentence Friday for involuntary manslaughter in Gibbs’ death. This delayed justice will never answer the questions, such as whether her father would have lived given the right treatment, Velosky testified at Levy’s sentencing hearing Friday.

“The answers to those questions are stolen from me,” she said, one of six members of various victims’ families who testified on the last day of the two-day hearing.

“I was lucky to have a husband who understood how important it was to have my wedding there,” Velosky testified. “It was hard to be a happy bride when I knew my father was dying beside me.” To this day, the couple does not display any pictures of their wedding in their home, she said.

Gibbs, a graduate of Gravette High School and a U.S. Air Force veteran, was one of five generations of his family to serve in the U.S. armed forces, testified his sister, Shawna Lynch of Keller, Texas. His grandfather served in World War I, his uncle in World War II, his father in the Korean War, and others in Vietnam and Desert Storm, she said. Gibbs is the family member who served in Desert Storm, according to his obituary.

Five generations of John Ray Gibbs family risked their lives for this country from World War I to Desert Storm.

Levy, 54, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in Gibbs’ death.

Levy reviewed thousands of lab results since he started work in 2005 at the Veterans Health Care Center. An independent review of his cases began in 2018 after he was arrested on a driving-while-intoxicated charge in Fayetteville. That review found 30 cases in which he missed the diagnosis seriously enough to have serious medical consequences.

Having a team of 53 pathologists review 33,902 cases with more than 300,000 tissue samples cost taxpayers $2.1 million, according to testimony Thursday. That figure doesn’t include the cost of paying the regular salaries of federal employees, including many of the pathologists, diverted from other tasks for the study lasting a year and a half.

Levy was charged with involuntary manslaughter in August 2019 in three cases where missed diagnoses had resulted in patients’ deaths, according to the federal indictment. He pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter and one count of mail fraud committed in his effort to conceal his substance abuse.

Levy participated in his sentencing by video link from the Washington County jail. U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks presided.

He faced up to 28 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.

Levy’s job paid $225,000 a year, according to his indictment. Besides the three counts of involuntary manslaughter, he was indicted on 12 counts each of wire fraud and mail fraud, and four counts of giving false statements to conceal his substance abuse. All other charges but the one count of manslaughter and one count of mail fraud were dropped under the plea agreement.

Levy was found drunk on the job in 2016, court records show. He was required to complete a drug rehabilitation program before returning to work and then to submit blood and urine samples for tests. He passed 42 such tests in two years.

Investigators found he did so by using a drug that intoxicates like alcohol, but isn’t traceable by breath, blood or urine tests for alcohol.

The criminal investigation of Levy’s substance abuse arose from his March 1, 2018, arrest on the DWI charge. The charge was later dismissed because police tests found no alcohol in his system. Still, the VA suspended Levy after that arrest by Fayetteville police.

The system fired him the next month during the federal investigation that discovered drug purchases and later led to his indictment.

This story was originally published at 1:13 p.m.

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