HUNTINGTON — A man pleaded guilty and could face six years in federal prison after investigators found he leaked stolen medical records from the Department of Veterans Affairs in the midst of Richard Ojeda’s congressional campaign.
Jeffrey S. Miller, then a claims assistant at the Veterans Benefits Administration Office in Huntington, contacted the VA’s Office of the Inspector General on May 30, 2018, to accuse Ojeda of fraudulently obtaining benefits.
To support his claim, Miller provided Ojeda’s medical information, which investigators found he unlawfully obtained and shared.
The VA ultimately would clear Ojeda — who was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army after deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning a Bronze Star — but questioned how Miller obtained the information he provided as proof.
Miller, 39, signed a plea agreement Tuesday in federal court in Huntington. In addition to potential prison time, he faces a fine of up to $600,000, pending a December sentencing hearing.
“I accessed the information without a good reason to access the information,” he told U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers.
The chain of figures down the line who received and spread Ojeda’s information is unclear.
Ojeda, who appeared in person for Miller’s hearing, was not named in Tuesday’s court proceedings. However, he obtained a heavily redacted copy of the investigation from the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General Criminal Division, which he provided to the Gazette-Mail.
In a separate legal proceeding, Ojeda is suing the VA seeking release of the full report. He alleges that several high-ranking Republicans received his medical records with the intent of damaging his political campaign.
“[Ojeda is] certain that the names included in the report of this investigation will prove a concerted effort to undermine his candidacy and forever damage his reputation,” the lawsuit states.
The redacted investigation report shows Miller unlawfully accessed 55 documents on several occasions. He took pictures of at least one document on his cellphone and sent it on.
He did so because, as he told investigators, he felt Ojeda was “not acting disabled” and had been observed working out and chopping wood. Miller made his political motives clear from the first time he contacted the OIG, after Ojeda had won the primary.
“Miller stated that Ojeda was ‘pushing the West Virginia Teacher’s Strike’ and that Ojeda is anti-hunting, anti-Second Amendment, and an advocate for the legalization of marijuana in West Virginia,” the investigation report states.
The identities of anyone who received the records from Miller are being withheld by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Mike Stuart, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, confirmed Tuesday some of the records leaked pertained to Ojeda. However, he declined to identify any of the people who further received and shared the information or to comment beyond a brief news release.
“This is a very serious matter. Medical records are protected information and the expectation and right of privacy is paramount,” Stuart said. “Federal law requires employees of the Veterans Benefits Administration to protect the medical records of our veterans. Anyone that improperly accesses, uses or exploits veterans’ medical records will be held accountable.”
In an interview Friday, Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., who said she is not related to Jeffrey Miller, said people’s medical records should not be taken and used for political purposes. Miller beat Ojeda in November by a wide margin.
Rep. Miller would not comment on whether it’s fair game for her supporters to use stolen medical information.
“It’s not something that I would want to have anything to do with, and I am only in charge of my behavior, and I am only in charge of what I do and what I say,” she said.
Jeffrey Miller told investigators he is not related to Rep. Miller. They then asked him if he’s friends with a person whose name is redacted in the report. He responded that he bought two cars from this person, and they talk occasionally about politics.
The leaked information contains diagnoses of Ojeda, which he elaborated on in an interview after the hearing, ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to traumatic brain injuries to bone spurs to tinnitus.
He said that, with reports of suicides in VA parking lots and investigations into suspicious deaths at the VA in Clarksburg, Jeffrey Miller’s actions only worsen veterans’ fears of health care they’ve earned and that there will be a lasting effect.
“What he has done will cause people to not take the help they desperately need,” Ojeda said.
He noted that Jeffrey Miller informed the judge of his own PTSD at the plea hearing and questioned why a person with PTSD would out another person with the same disorder. Ojeda also criticized prosecutors for withholding the names of people who spread information about him.