VA Leaders Conference Features Boss Under Corruption Probe

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Luke Rosiak Investigative Reporter
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Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald held up Dewayne Hamlin, a repeat retaliator against whistleblowers, as a model for VA managers by allowing him teach a leadership seminar even as he is being investigated for corruption.

Hamlin was a “coach” and “lead” at VA’s Leaders Developing Leaders conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. He was arrested in Florida at 3 a.m. in 2014 on suspicion of DUI and found with painkillers for which he had no prescription. He is not a doctor, and diversion of VA hospital drugs to recreational uses is a serious epidemic.

The leaders conference is one of McDonald’s pet projects, and he has repeatedly bragged about its importance in re-shaping VA’s management culture. Testifying before Congress Sept. 14, 2006, he said, “for the last two days, I have been at a Leaders Developing Leaders Conference with almost 600 of VA’s Leaders. Immediately after this hearing, I am returning to the conference.”

Last year, he said the VA executives at the D.C. training session are “the ‘tip of the spear’ for cultural change,” and the seminar would focus on “developing leadership judgment.”

The troubled department’s top brass know Hamlin is also seeking to pay a whistleblower $305,000 to quit — the largest such VA settlement on record — because she wouldn’t help him cover up his arrest, and he wasn’t able to fire her. Hamlin’s former top deputy accused him of whistleblower retaliation and theft of government property.

A third former employee, Joseph Colon, repeatedly told Congress and McDonald about being retaliated against by Hamlin. Under pressure from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), VA moved Colon away from Hamlin.

The VA’s Office of Accountability Review (OAR) is investigating Hamlin now. Emails dated Monday discuss, “an administrative investigation into senior leader accountability related to allegations of retaliation at the Caribbean” hospital by the office.

But OAR is under VA’s general counsel. Leigh Bradley told Congress earlier this month, without offering any evidence, that the Hamlin-Lopez case was not retaliation, seemingly sending a signal to her subordinates of what she expects them to find.

In a statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation, Bradley did not mention that her office is investigating Hamlin, saying only that the Office of Special Counsel, a separate federal agency that evaluates whistleblower complaints, is investigating. She added that employee discipline should be based on “evidence, not rumors, hearsay or media reports.”

Bosses tried to fire Lopez more than two years ago, and the most relevant document — her “notice of proposed termination” reviewed by TheDCNF — stated that she was being fired for refusing to cooperate with false testimony about Colon.

Bradley said the OSC investigation into what happened years ago means she couldn’t comment on why VA would actively reward Hamlin with a high-profile teaching slot this month.

Colon revealed Hamlin’s Florida arrest to VA officials in the department’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. Hamlin asked Lopez to fire him. When Lopez said Colon broke no rules, Hamlin tried to fire her instead.

When ethics officials blocked that, Hamlin turned to paying her off. Lopez has not decided whether to accept the money. Hamlin has since moved her office to a trailer without the basic equipment she uses to do her job.

Hamlin hired numerous others with their own brushes with the law. A top purchasing official was hired straight out of federal prison for stealing credit cards from his last employer. A human resources official is a convicted sex offender.

The employees union uses them as leverage to keep rank-and-file employees with legal troubles. One woman kept her job while she served jail time in connection with an armed robbery, then worked in security while wearing a GPS monitor. A VA undersecretary, when asked about the robbery, was so sure Hamlin would have fired her that he falsely said she had been.

McDonald’s focus on “changing the culture” of VA has failed to stop the use of reassignment of executives to create the appearance of positive changes. A data analysis by TheDCNF found that when a director is removed from a facility for scandal, they are rarely actually gone, they are instead often whisked to a new VA location, sometimes with a promotion. (RELATED: Failed St. Louis VA Chief Got Plush Job, Free House in Philippines)

Before Puerto Rico, Hamlin was associate director of a Tampa hospital where veterans routinely had to wait too long for surgery and the operating rooms were infested with flies. When the director took the fall for the failures, Hamlin was rewarded with the top job.

Hamlin’s Puerto Rico hospital has been the subject of numerous investigations, including for leaving patients lying in their own feces or on the floor. Hamlin routinely promoted bosses who oversaw such incidents. A doctor there supervised his wife during her residency and conducted an operation his colleagues said was unnecessary, but which his wife needed experience in. The patient died. The doctor was promoted.

Instead of removing Hamlin, the VA has put him in charge of selecting other executives. Last year, he was part of a small panel that chose the director of a Florida hospital. The panel selected a peer who was left his last job after being faulted for 85 percent of patients being seen by nurses instead of doctors, and taking away pay from doctors unless they said nurses had adequate supervision, even though they believed they did not.

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