HUNTINGTON – A former state Senator and U.S. House candidate says his medical records were stolen from a Veterans Affairs office and used against him in his 2018 congressional campaign.
Richard Ojeda filed a complaint Aug. 22 in federal court asking to have a Department of Veterans Affairs investigation into the matter released. Federal prosecutors said Jeffrey S. Miller, a claims assistant at the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Huntington office, took a photograph of medical records of a public figure on May 17 and sent the photo to someone.
The incident occurred days after Ojeda won the Democratic primary for the open Third District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. That fall, Ojeda lost to Republican Carol Miller in the general election.
In his federal lawsuit, Ojeda says he is the anonymous public figure. He says Jeffrey Miller accessed his medical records for more than two months “without authorization and without any legitimate work-related purpose.”
Ojeda says his political opponents having his medical records could have been the reason he lost that election.
“Listen, I spent 19 months campaigning,” Ojeda told The West Virginia Record. “I put more than 100,000 miles on my vehicles. I knocked on thousands of doors, shook thousands of hands. I ran a good race. I turned more red voters back to blue, and I lost to a person who didn’t campaign.
“These people behind the scenes took things they shouldn’t have taken and basically were throwing stones at my military record. These people absolutely can’t hold a handle to my 24 years of military service. It’s a shame.”
Ojeda, who rose to the rank of major in the U.S. Army, says he thinks his record talking about traumatic brain injury related to being near explosions during combat and a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder could have been used against him in the campaign.
“Plus, there are things in medical records that have the embarrassment factor,” he told The Record. “But, those things happen. It’s just a shame these people claim to support veterans, but they really only support veterans who support them.
“I mean, the chairwoman of the West Virginia Republican Party (Melody Potter) called my military retirement a government handout.
“I’m an open book, but it stops at my medical records.”
Ojeda also wonder about comments made by President Donald Trump when he came to West Virginia to campaign for Carol Miller.
“You have to wonder about the timing,” Ojeda said. “I was ahead in the polls. Then, Trump comes down to West Virginia saying I’m a stone cold crazy wacko. Did someone show him my records? I can’t rule anything out.
“And, (Carol) Miller’s team says there is no connection between her campaign and this guy who accessed my files. I’m not able to rule anything out. I wouldn’t be surprised if they aren’t connected.”
Since July 22, Ojeda says he and his attorneys have been seeking more information from the government about its investigation into the data breach, including reports, records and copies of emails sent and received by Jeffrey Miller regarding Ojeda’s medical records.
Ojeda says he needs the information to effectively comment at a Sept. 3 plea hearing for Jeffrey Miller regarding the data breach.
“Several unknown persons that have received the protected medical information were high-ranking members of the local and regional community and government, including high-ranking members of the West Virginia Republican Party who could have negatively affected plaintiff Ojeda’s political campaign,” the complaint states. “Plaintiff and his counsel are 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.”
Ojeda said he’s been told he’ll get the FOIA response Sept. 5, two days after Jeffrey Miller’s hearing.
“We submitted a FOIA, and they’re supposed to have 20 days to answer. We’re now on day 35 or something like that. They don’t want to give us this information because it will rock the West Virginia GOP. One official told me this is one of the worst instances of a veteran being done wrong he’s ever seen.
“And now, they’re not going to give us this information until September 5th. He pleads on the 3rd. I don’t know the full ramifications of what he did. And I’m sure they’re going to tell me I have the right to speak. How can I prepare if I don’t know the full scope of what he did and what was taken? They’re trying to withhold it from us.
“I’m telling you right now, they messed with the wrong paratrooper. I do my best work when I’m surrounded.”
Ojeda seeks to have the Department of Veterans Affairs disclose the requested records and make copies available. He also seeks court costs and attorney fees. He is being represented by Teresa Toriseva of Toriseva Law in Wheeling.
The case has been assigned to Judge Robert C. Chambers.
U.S. District Court case number 3:19-cv-00613