FORT SMITH, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Judy and Andrew Velosky flip through page after page, showing the decorated life of Air Force Staff Sergeant J.R. Gibbs.
The veteran from Gravette has two bronze stars, an Air Medal, Congressional Order of Merit and the list goes on. Even after the Air Force, he served in the police force and with the American Legion.
“He loved Gravette. He loved Arkansas. He loved America,” his daughter Judy Velosky said.
You can tell in this old Veterans Day school project, when Gibbs talks about his time in the Gulf War.
“So over the desert, there’re 39 of these flags in Iraq somewhere that during our missions I dropped,” Gibbs described.
He used to drop American Flags and handwritten notes over the desert on missions in his KC-135, a refueling aircraft.
If there was a medal for being a father, he would’ve earned that too.
“He came to every single band practice. I mean, band practices he’s at,” Judy Velosky said.
She said his favorite role though was Grandpa.
“They’d go to the park. They’d go to the movies. They’d go bowling and he could do no wrong,” she said with a laugh.
In 2014 he was diagnosed with cancer. But Gibbs was a survivor.
“Three incidents there where he took fire at some point,” Andrew Velosky said while going through his father-in-law’s old war medals.
He survived Desert Storm Desert Shield. He survived when he was shot as a Gravette Police Detective.
“This just didn’t seem like it was something that could take him down,” Judy Velosky said.
Ready to fight, he began treatment for the wrong type of cancer. Gibbs was misdiagnosed not once, but twice by then VA Chief Pathologist Dr. Robert Levy.
A newly released sentencing memorandum says Levy even ignored a colleague’s written warning to conduct more tests. He then forged a colleague’s signature claiming another doctor concurred with the diagnosis. Levy has pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the case.
“As his health declined, I heard him say and write because he couldn’t really speak actually so he’s writing this, but he’s telling nurses I was getting married in November and he just had to make it to November,” Judy Velosky said.
So she and Andrew changed their wedding plans. There would be no big venue, large crowd or father-daughter dance; all so Gibbs could still fulfill his duty as Dad.
“That’s every little girl’s dream to have her dad give her away. So I wanted that. And I knew he wanted it,” Judy Velosky said, fighting back tears.
Gibbs died later that year.
Levy’s problems continued. Court documents say in 2016, he showed up to work drunk and helped do a biopsy on a patient. His BAC was .396. Levy was suspended, but seven months later he returned to work but his diagnosis had actually gotten worse over those seven months.
In a letter from the Mississippi Physician Health Program (MPHP) to the Executive Director of the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure (where Levy was licensed), it states on May 25, 2016, Levy was “diagnosed with alcohol-use disorder, moderate severity.”
When he was released from treatment on October 8, 2016, his “diagnosis changed to alcohol-use disorder, severe”.
Levy kept his job by signing a recovery contract agreement with the MPHP. In it, he agreed to constant monitoring, including urine and tissue screens, polygraph testing and a worksite monitor. But he found a way around it with a substance called 2M2B. It is undetectable on standard testing, but it has effects similar to alcohol.
At the time he was buying 2M2B, the sentencing memorandum says Levy misdiagnosed seven more people in 2017 alone.
Judy Velosky thinks about it frequently. She has had two more children since Gibbs’ death.
“Both times, it just feels like I can’t really enjoy it to the fullest because I feel like they’re missing out,” she said, reflecting back on how great of a grandfather Gibbs was.
Being a grandfather was another badge of honor for him. But perhaps he left a glimpse of what he would have taught them.
“Whatever I’m doing, I give it my all and to be a really good friend. If I have a friend and you’re my friend, you will be my friend for life and I will do anything for you,” Gibbs said in that school project video.
Those qualities will not be forgotten.
“Funny and kind and trustworthy and loyal. I mean, very loyal. Dedicated. And I don’t think I have to tell people to remember him that way because I think that’s how people remember him,” Judy Velosky said.
KNWA filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain more documents such as Levy’s performance evaluations, peer reviews and his work site monitor’s reports on his appearance at work. The initial request was submitted in October of 2019.
The initial request was denied. But after KNWA filed an appeal, a FOIA officer said “We cannot confirm that a reasonable search for responsive records was conducted.” So the process started over.
Our request is under appeal once again.