The Daily Caller

The Daily Caller
              FILE - In this May 8, 2010 file photo, a tattoo on the back of U.S. Army Sgt. James Wilkes of Rochester, N.Y., is seen through his torn shirt after a foot patrol with 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, of the 5th Styker Brigade, in Afghanistan

Mississippi Veteran’s Administration Office Promotes Interns Over Veterans

A Veterans Administration (VA) office in Mississippi has created a culture that routinely promotes interns over veterans, The Daily Caller has learned.

American Federation of Government Employees Union Local 520 President Ron Robinson, who represents VA employees in Columbia, S.C., said hiring decisions for his employees are made out of the Veteran Benefits Administration (VBA) office in Jackson, Miss.

“Something is very wrong with that office [the VBA office in Jackson],” said Robinson. He referred to the head of the Jackson office, C. Michelle Campbell, as “unresponsive and disengaged” in VA business dealings.

He said starting in 2007 until 2010, a period of brisk hiring, he began to notice that jobs that were posted by the Jackson office meant exclusively for veterans were repeatedly given to interns instead of veterans.

Robinson became so alarmed that he made a Freedom of Information Act request for hiring data in the office from 2007-2010. The results confirmed his suspicion, as he found that exponentially more candidates who came out of a VA intern program were hired for positions designed for veterans than veterans themselves.

Robinson said a federal hiring freeze starting in 2010 halted nearly all hiring, but he believes the Jackson office continues to discriminate against veterans in terms of promotions.

Two other whistle-blowers who worked in the Veterans Benefits Administration office in Jackson, Miss., said that in their time in the office, veterans were routinely passed over.

Veteran Elvis Butler said he recently resigned from working at the office because he concluded that the facility had a culture of cronyism that was hostile to those it didn’t include.

Butler made a series of complaints to VA officials about the culture at the facility. He told TheDC that the culture was perpetrated largely at the behest of Campbell and Elton Ron Stowers, the operations manager.

“I have applied for numerous positions for which I am more than qualified and did not receive the positions,” Butler said. “I have been at HRC-Jackson since June 20, 2010 and I have watched them bring in brand new candidates off the street and fill positions in the office and not even giving internal employees an opportunity for promotions.”

“There is this ‘Non-Communicated Rule’ at HRC-Jackson, MS that you have to wait your turn and some employees have been waiting more than 15 years,” Butler said in one of the complaints. ”I have witnessed illegal hiring practices within this office, as well as illegal cover-ups by management in this office since I have been employed here.”

An email to Campbell was left unreturned.

Butler said he and two other veterans were passed over four times for the managerial position of human resources specialist.

Butler told TheDC that while he only worked in this office for about four years, two other veterans had worked in the same office for a decade or more without ever being promoted into a managerial position.

In October 2013, he was again passed over for the position of management analyst. Butler said this case is especially egregious, because the management analyst position requires a great deal of information technology work, and even though he has several IT-related certifications, the position was filled by an individual with no information technology expertise.

Butler provided TheDC a copy of his resume, which includes more than two decades of work experience, including managerial experience in both the private sector and in the government.

Another whistle-blower, who asked to remain anonymous because they continue to work in the VA system in a different office, described an outright hostile environment. The whistle-blower, who is not a veteran, said they were the subject of a systematic intimidation campaign by Stowers after they reported an incident with another employee.

“I am afraid to come to work each day,” the whistle-blower emailed, “because my direct supervisor will stop at nothing and I honestly fear for my life when I am in this office because no one is seated near my workstation and I fear that since he has already threatened me and written me up that he is going to do physical harm to me or kill me.”

“Please do not say that this will not happen because I have already been slapped hard in my face and absolutely nothing has been done to the assailant,” they continued. “I spoke with the VA police, and they said that they cannot do anything to help me unless Elton Ron Stowers actually does something to me. I fear that he might kill me and then there will be no need for the police protection.”

Butler confirmed to TheDC that he witnessed some of that alleged intimidation.

Complaints about this retaliation went to VA Area Director Keith Thompson, as well as Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey. An email to Ms. Hickey was left unreturned.

An email to Josephine Schuda in the Office of Media Relations at the VA was also left unreturned.