Systemic problems with Veterans Affairs? What systemic problems? One medical center in Indiana is drawing exactly the type of attention they don’t need in the current era of scandals, thanks to a worker who thought it would be funny to send around a “joke” email over the holidays which wasn’t very funny. In it, she includes pictures which appear to mock veterans with psychological problems using a toy elf who begs for medication and appears to kill himself.

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.

Just to make things more interesting, the department didn’t just find out about this now. The press is only catching on this week, but apparently the hospital as known about it for months and has “already dealt with it.”

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.

The worker has already apologized, and to a very limited extent, I can almost see how somebody could understand how this happened. As I’ve probably mentioned before, I have a sister who is a nurse and worked for decades in a pediatric critical care unit where they saw some of the most horrific things one could imagine on a regular basis. The staff there almost all seemed to develop an off putting sense of gallows humor over time, largely as a coping mechanism for dealing with such terrible things every day. I imagine that working with the most severely injured returning heroes is equally traumatic and a similar phenomenon might set in.

But particularly with all of the horrible news about veterans’ care in the United States over the last few years… come on, lady. You don’t put something like that in an email when you should know that it might get out where not only the public, but the veterans were going to end up seeing it. Mocking a suicide by hanging in a ward taking care of potentially suicidal warriors? You should have known better and I hope you are truly ashamed of yourself.

I’m a little conflicted about this particular story given the background I describe above. I don’t know if she should have lost her job, but clearly something needed to be done in terms of corrective action. This was just awful in every sense of the word.