A Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) worker fired for bringing a stun gun to work and repeatedly discharging it claims everyone else in her office just watches TV all day, so she doesn’t understand why she’s being singled out for rare discipline.
The office in question is the “Non-VA Purchased Care Support Office,” which processes payments to private doctors providing care to veterans. Many VA employees opposed the program because they view it as threatening their union jobs. So many payments mysteriously never made it to the doctors that were owed that many of them began refusing to accept VA patients.
The woman also paints the VA back office as a racially-charged culture of elderly black women that is distanced and different from that of the returning warriors they serve.
The “sure, I was a bad employee, but so was everyone else around me, and VA management did nothing about them” tactic in countering management discipline is a recurring theme among poorly performing VA employees.
The woman, Yolanda Cobia, is now attempting to invoke “whistleblower” status, even though she did little to call management’s attention to the behaviors to which she now objects when they occurred, highlighting an increasingly common phenomenon.
The VA infamously persecuted employees who called attention to problems, and under pressure from Congress, has recently been trying to ensure that doesn’t happen. But now, bad employees who might previously have been the subject of whistleblower disclosures are wrongfully taking advantage of that sensitivity, trying to make it harder to fire them by calling themselves whistleblowers.
Cobia appealed her firing to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) and provided copies of documents related to her appeal to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Once she gained a newfound moral objection to her colleagues being belligerent and lazy, it didn’t take long to accumulate examples. Hours after police interviewed Cobia about the gun, VA employees “ganged up” on a “white woman” and threatened and berated her until the woman called the police to protect herself from the government employees, Cobia said.
Khadijah Abdullah, a VA employee who tried to help Cobia avoid being fired, wrote in a statement to MSPB that “on the day that Yolanda was questioned about a stunt [sic] gun … Deborah Williams was outside … where she was confronting a white lady about a car incident, they were going at it for about five minutes when three other VA Annex employee decide [sic] to come to her aide [sic]…. Patrica [sic] Couser and Monica Gee both jump [sic] in the lady [sic] face using Profanity [sic] along with Deborah Williams while the lady held her cell phone in her hand calling for the Philadelphia Police.”
Cobia told MSPB that she “went to the 16th district police department, after making several calls and online tips. To report their conduct, because this civilian was a victim, just like myself. Went to investigate the conduct of them ganging up on this white woman.”
Abdullah also provided a statement to MSPB about Cobia’s weapon, saying “on March 8, 2016 an incident occurred in the afternoon where an [sic] popping noise I heard in the area where Yolanda Cobia, Patrica Couser, Monica Gee and Deborah Williams cubicles are located… I did here [sic] someone in the office say what is that noise. Then about half an hour later I hear pap, pap, pap, and this time Selita Davis shouts out ‘what is that over there ya’ll are scarring [sic] me.’
“This time Marion Toole the supervisor come [sic] and stands at Monica Gee [sic] cubicle and asked what was that noise nobody in that area said anything. Now at this time I look at where Monica Gee [sic] cubicle is and Marion, Patrica, Monia, Deborah and Maurice where [sic] standing there whispering.”
Cobia said she brought the stun gun to show her co-workers self-defense, since “they are both over 60” and she is a “single lady.” She said she didn’t know the VA office was “a government building” so she didn’t know she shouldn’t bring weapons to it.
After police located two stun guns in her car, Cobia said the second “was probably left by one of my family member [sic] who uses my car.” VA said she would be fired, which she “couldn’t understand” since she “got along with the ladies in my department” and “Patricia and I started a coffee club.”
The VA employees union couldn’t stop Cobia’s firing because she was on probation as a new employee. She was new to the VA but worked for the Internal Revenue Service for years before that as a “tax examining technician.”
The “white lady” incident was just one of multiple examples Cobia cited to MSPB to demonstrate that no matter how many rules she violated, she was no worse than anyone else there.
She said her boss routinely had her kids stay in the office, saving her on day care and essentially getting paid to spend time with her own kids. Cobia said her boss’s conduct was an example of the crew’s nonchalance about private medical information because “my manager [sic] children being allowed in the office to work on folding PFAR, which has veteran’s [sic] information.”
She also said her colleagues routinely leave the office for hours during the workday to have fun outside, then come back at night and bill the government for overtime to work into the night or on weekends. (Cobia disclosed this because she was angry she didn’t get similar overtime approved.)
“These employees including manager would report to work anytime and surf the web, watch DVD movies, take two hour lunches,” she said, adding her manager “rarely comes to work and often cancels team meeting.”
After she was put on paid leave as a precursor to firing, Cobia filed a complaint with the federal Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which polices whistleblower retaliation claims, but officials there declined to take her case. A whistleblower is a good employee who discloses serious problems to proper authorities, such as management or Congress, at the time they become aware of them. (RELATED: VA Secretly Paid Exec Who Threatened Whistleblower $86,000 To Quit)
OSC has been inundated with complaints from self-styled VA whistleblowers — far more than from any other agency — since the wait-time falsification scandal, in which employees trying to do the right thing were fired and those responsible for misconduct were promoted.
Many of those filing complaints used their position on the inside to reveal major problems in an effort to try to fix the system, and some got a raw deal as a result. But others only bothered to object to bad behavior when they thought it would benefit them personally, and the “retaliation” was simply discipline that they deserved for their own misconduct.
Dr. Barbara Temeck was chief of staff at the Cincinnati VA when she gave painkillers to a friend. She gave up her medical license in order to avoid prosecution by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Now she claims she’s not in charge of the hospital isn’t because it is impossible for her to practice medicine, but rather because she is being punished for being a whistleblower. As evidence, she pointed to a poor relationship with a university official — who would have no power to retaliate against her — and bad care in her own hospital.
In fact, it was part of Temeck’s job to stop poor care from occurring among her subordinates, and the only reason it came to light is because of 34 current and former VA employees who were actual whistleblowers and came forward with “urgent concerns about the quality” of the hospital under Temeck. Scandals and reports of incompetence followed Temeck at a variety of VA hospitals she has worked at.
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