Opinion

Veterans Affairs Whistleblower To Trump: Clean Up This Agency

Dear President-elect Trump,

I have been a VA employee for almost ten years. I am a disabled Marine Veteran. I also have three children all currently serving on active duty in the United States Marine Corps. My family truly believes in serving this great nation. My dad worked for Coca Cola for years and was a Teamster. I grew up in a very pro-union household and was taught from an early age to belong to the union because they will protect you when management committed wrong doing.

I was an addiction therapist at the Phoenix VA for over four years from 2012-2016. I developed a successful treatment program called “Motivation for Change” that treated Veterans convicted of alcohol and/or drug related felonies that also had substance use disorders. I successfully graduated 51 high risk Veterans, many of whom that at one time or another had expressed that they had thoughts of suicide. I also lost six Veterans to suicide during my time as a counselor at the Phoenix VA. Every one of them is like a punch in the gut. It hurts when we lose fellow Veterans.

I came forward as a whistleblower to the Office of Special Counsel on December 6, 2014. I reported that suicidal Veterans were eloping (simply walking away) because they were not being properly monitored. I also reported that my own personal medical records were being illegally rifled through by my coworkers, none of whom were ever involved in my personal medical treatment as a disabled Veteran.

The retaliation I faced from VA management at the Phoenix hospital was intense; they came at me right away from all sides. They forced me to work with the coworker who admitted going into my personal medical records. Like I was taught to do by my father, I turned to the American Federation of Government Employees Union I was a member of. They offered no help. I turned to the local media on January 12, 13, 2015 to tell my story. After doing so the local AFGE president called me “foolish” for going to the press. When I later asked him why he would say that he told me they were not allowed to talk to the press.

The director of my hospital held a secret meeting on January 14, 2015 in which he proposed my termination from Federal employment for being a whistleblower. When he was told no that I could not be fired because I was protected as a whistleblower, VA legal counsel informed him, “Brandon Coleman could be terminated for other adverse employee actions.” A week later I was wrongfully accused of threatening a coworker and sent home on paid administrative leave. I was cleared of any wrongdoing the following month.

I sat home on paid administrative leave from January 27, 2015 – May 1, 2016 — a total of 460 days. During that time I met one on one with Secretary McDonald who told me I would be protected. After meeting Secretary McDonald, the director Glen Grippen illegally placed a “gag order” on me forbidding me from speaking to any Phoenix VA employees on April 20, 2015 in direct violation of my 1st Amendment rights. This illegal act kept me from being able to get medical care as a disabled Veteran at my medical facility. I again reached out to my union for help. I did not get help from my union. Only after I took my story to the national news media did the director on April 24, 2015 rescind the gag order stating the VA “recognized my right to free speech under the first amendment.”

Next I testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on September 22, 2015 at the request of Chairman Ron Johnson regarding ongoing whistleblower retaliation within the Department of Veterans Affairs. The union again did nothing to help me or support me. In fact, shortly after I testified, a news article came out in the Daily Caller in which the lead AFGE attorney J. Ward Morrow bashed the sworn testimony of two other VA employee / whistleblowers and I. Mr. Morrow did not bash our testimony for being untruthful, but he said it was “not union friendly.”

With the help of the United States Office of Special Counsel and the Government Accountability Project I was able to reach a settlement with the VA, allowing me to get back to work helping Veterans with their recovery from substance use disorders. The OSC recently sent a letter to POTUS proving I told the truth from day one that suicidal Veterans were not being watched at my facility and that my personal medical records were being rifled through almost at will be my coworkers. That was a good day.

In closing, I will state that I told the truth from day one. For telling the truth, the VA tried to fire me and destroy my career. They sent me home and shut down my Motivation for Change program for 460 days. It was proven I told the truth and it was also proven that Glen Grippen, then-director of the Phoenix VA, retaliated against me by the VA’s Office of Accountability Review. Not a single employee that retaliated against me was ever held accountable for their actions. Everything I have stated today can be verified by viewing my full Congressional Testimony that is a matter of public record submitted on September 22, 2015 or by looking at the countless articles written by the press in The New York Times, USA Today, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, CNN, and Fox News regarding my case.

To date, even though I told the truth and saved lives, as the Honorable Carolyn Lerner stated in her recent letter to President Obama, I can say not a single Veteran Service Organization has ever reached out to me, either trying to help or thanking me for being brave enough to tell the truth about what was happening at my facility with our most at risk Veterans. The AFGE union offered help by calling me “foolish” and by bashing my sworn testimony that was proven accurate by VA and by the OSC.

I’ve seen a lot of press recently regarding the VSO’s trying to warn President Elect Trump to keep Secretary McDonald as VA Secretary. Please note that this past week Secretary McDonald attempted to bully USA Today for their well-written article regarding the VA’s “Star Rating System” for our hospitals. I am embarrassed as a former Marine and current VA employee that the Secretary would publicly try to squash freedom of the press that each of us served to protect. A major problem with the current state of the VA is the unions and VSOs and the stranglehold they have on potential civil service reform. My case is a prime example of what the current secretary, the unions and VSO’s are really about. It’s about keeping the status quo and not rocking the boat. God forbid we ever all jumped in together and fixed this mess. Many in VA, union and VSO leadership have forgotten a simple message. It is a privilege and not a right to take care of our nation’s heroes.

 

Respectfully Submitted,

Brandon Coleman

Brandon Coleman is a United States Marine Corps Veteran and father of three current active duty Marines. Mr. Coleman has been a Department of Veterans Affairs employee for over 9 years and is a noted Phoenix VA whistleblower who has testified before the United States Senate regarding whistleblower retaliation. Mr. Coleman continues to fight for accountability and transparency within the VA.