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  • Whistleblowers: The VA Is Clever In Finding Ways To Retaliate Against Us

    Supervisors at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Philadelphia recently found a clever way to fire whistleblower Troy Thompson — by removing him for eating old sandwiches.

    The creative ability of VA management to find any way possible to fire whistleblowers received renewed support Tuesday, when some of the most prominent VA whistleblowers gathered before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs to provide first-hand testimony on the extensive retaliation they experienced.

    “All over the country, it’s the same story,” said Shea Wilkes, a whistleblower from the Overton Brooks medical center in Louisiana. “It is absolutely amazing how each of our situations are unique, but how the retaliation is so similar. It’s like the VA leaders have developed a book on how to retaliate.”

    In the case of Brandon Coleman, a former social worker at the medical center in Phoenix, the facility director convened a meeting to try and oust Coleman for reporting his concerns to the media. A VA lawyer told the director that because of federal laws protecting disclosure, Coleman could only be removed for unrelated misconduct. And that’s what happened shortly after, when an allegation of a conflict with another colleague led to Coleman being placed on administrative absence.

    Coleman asked for the committee to call for a Department of Justice investigation into illegal access of his treatment records.

    Joseph Colon, an employee at the VA Caribbean health care system in Puerto Rico, had his whistleblowing case settled in July. Yet despite the settlement, retaliation continues. Colon initially reported physicians practicing without licenses, travel voucher fraud, unfair hiring practices and negligent which resulted in the death of veterans, among many other issues.

    He was first investigated four times and then later illegally placed in the basement. Officials tried to remove him twice, and he even received a three-day suspension.

    “Management here in San Juan, Puerto Rico actually reward people that actually help them build a case to fire a Whistleblower,” Colon told the committee Tuesday.

    Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, representing the Office of Special Counsel, informed the committee that the agency is actively investigating disclosures from both Wilkes and Coleman. But Lerner argued that the VA has more work to do when imposing discipline, as the department imposes discipline inconsistently.

    It’s been over a year since scandal engulfed the VA, and more whistleblower cases surface by the day.

    GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the committee, closed the hearing by reminding whistleblowers that they have bipartisan support.

    “Thank you for coming forward,” Johnson said. “We will act.”

    Follow Jonah Bennett on Twitter

     

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