An internal report from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) accountability office has finally confirmed that Phoenix VA Interim Medical Center Director Glen Grippen wrongfully retaliated against whistleblower Brandon Coleman for exposing that suicidal veterans were being allowed to leave the emergency room.
Following Coleman’s disclosure Jan. 12, 2015, to a local ABC news station that suicidal vets were simply walking out of the ER unchecked, Grippen held a meeting to determine how best to get rid of Coleman, according to an eye-witness statement referenced in a heavily redacted report. At the time, Coleman was working as an addiction therapist and could not keep silent about the problems he was seeing, namely that veterans were walking out of a depressingly understaffed ER, according to the Office of Accountability Review (OAR).
Grippen was reportedly advised during the meeting that he could not fire Coleman for making disclosures to the media but he could be removed for conduct unrelated to the disclosures. The OAR report stated, however, that there was dispute about what actually went on during the meeting because of other differing witness testimonies.
After the meeting is when the retaliation began.
In a Jan. 21 meeting with Coleman on patient care, Grippen inappropriately castigated Coleman for not being as good an employee as he was in the past. “I want you to know you’re not being terminated yet,” Grippen also said.
Coleman was then suspended and placed on administrative absence Feb. 2, 2015, for a supposed act of violence in the workplace — roughly two weeks after Grippen’s first meeting about Coleman’s disclosures to the media.
After Coleman was placed on administrative absence, he was allowed to visit the VA for the purpose of receiving care, but would have to “check in with the VA Police upon arriving on campus for appointments and check out with them upon departing.”
A subsequent investigation found that there was no corroborating evidence and no witnesses to suggest Coleman assaulted anyone.
The OAR report brushed off allegations of retaliation against Coleman in several cases, but the office said the evidence supports the finding that Grippen retaliated against Coleman when he restricted Coleman’s rights to communicate with veterans and co-workers. Grippen tried to claim that his gag order was not meant to hamper Coleman’s First Amendment rights, but that appears to have persuaded no one. The office did hedge the finding, however, and said it was not fully certain about Grippen’s motive because numerous employees also said they were scared of Coleman’s behavior.
But Coleman is unconvinced at attempts to diminish his character.
“I have never as much as raised my voice in 9 years of federal employment because i am a tattooed 250 lb former marine,” Coleman told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “These same supervisors that were ‘scared for their safety’ gave me exceptional year end reviews just before I became a whistleblower.”
Coleman, who has featured as a prominent Phoenix VA whistleblower in the public, is settling with the VA for an undisclosed amount in early 2016, and returning to work after 18 months of leave.
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