US

VA Secretary Set To Finally Meet With Whistleblower

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque.

Nick Givas Media And Politics Reporter

An addiction therapist at the Phoenix VA Health System, Brandon Coleman, filed a whistleblower complaint with the federal office of special counsel in December. He was later charged with misconduct and put on leave by Phoenix administrators.

Jacksonville.com reports that Veterans Administration Secretary Robert McDonlad will be meeting with him one-on-one on Thursday.

The Phoenix VA is considered the starting point for the VA scandal that came to light last year. Patients experienced unreasonably long wait times to see a doctor and the hospital attempted to cover up these wait times by altering records.

Coleman spoke up, saying, “What shocked me is, maybe because I’m a former Marine, I’ve always been the one to call bull if something’s wrong.”

Coleman continued, “What has happened, all the people I work with know that it’s true and people are so scared to come forward because they see what happens to people like me who do.”

Coleman was a respected leader of a 52-week program that helped motivate veterans to beat their addictions. He has run it since 2012, helping dozens of sick veterans.

When Coleman filed his complaint in December, he said he had personal knowledge of incidents in which the hospital mishandled suicidal veterans. He says he was approached for help by some of those veterans he’d worked with in his program.

“With suicidal veterans that I’d take over to the ER, I would have to hand them off to a nurse and make sure they were with them,” said Coleman. “Then to find out later that that veteran had walked out of the hospital, there’s something wrong with that.”

In January, following his initial complaint, Coleman was called in to meet with the medical center director, Glen Grippen. Grippen took over for Sharon Helman, who was fired in the wake of the VA scandal. The witnesses at the meeting were the union president and a VA psychologist.

Just six days after the meeting, Coleman was placed on leave. On January 27, Coleman was given a letter telling him he was on paid administrative leave for threatening a fellow worker. Coleman has denied the allegation.

To make matters worse, Coleman was told that if he visited the hospital for treatment, he would be forced to check in and out with the VA police. His program was terminated, his job was taken away, and his reputation thrown into question. Then the case was turned on its head.

Two fellow employees of Coleman’s stepped forward to support his innocence. Lisa Tadano, a nursing assistant and Army veteran, and Jared Kinneman, a Marine vet.

Both filed for whistleblower protection and they are both still employed. Following the story, Senator John McCain wrote a letter to McDonald urging him to investigate the matter.

“Without prejudging the merits of Mr. Coleman’s concerns, but in light of recent revelations regarding related misconduct at [the Phoenix VA] I urge you to address and look into this situation immediately,” wrote McCain.

One month later, eight of Arizona’s U.S. reps followed McCain’s lead.

President Obama will be visiting the Phoenix VA hospital on Friday to counteract the bad publicity the VA scandal has brought the administration.