Whistleblower: Phoenix VA Retaliated Against Me For Speaking Out

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.

Michael Volpe Contributor
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A new whistleblower from the Phoenix VA Medical Center says nothing has changed at the troubled hospital and his career is threatened for speaking out.

On October 4, 2016, the Veteran Administration Office of Inspector General (VAOIG) released its latest report on misconduct at the Phoenix VA Medical Center; this report found that the hospital kept open nearly 38,000 specialty appointment consultations and up to 215 more veterans may have died as a result.

That report was based on information provided by Kuauhtemoc Rodriguez, known as K-Rod to friends and colleagues.

Now, Rodriguez tells The Daily Caller that the hospital is retaliating by convening an administrative investigative board (AIB), a bureaucratic process which could lead to his dismissal.

“The previous director Deborah Amdur tried to remove me with false complaints lodged by the same people who refiled their complaints under the new Director Rima Ann Nelson,” Rodriquez said. “All these employees were recruited to file false allegations of hostile work environment. This is a direct assault on me two times, why? Because these complainants have actually violated my rights by slandering me.”

As The Daily Caller noted in September 2016, the new Phoenix VA Medical Director, Rima Nelson, has a long history of overseeing VA hospitals with scandals.

Initially, the Phoenix VA Medical Center seemed to confirm Rodriguez was being targeted, Paul Coupaud, public affairs officer for the Phoenix VA, gave TheDC this statement: “The leadership of the Phoenix VA Health Care System respects the role and purpose of whistleblowers and values the information they provide in regard to identifying opportunities for improvement within our organization,” Coupaud said. “That said, any government employee can be investigated for wrong doing. As a matter of policy, the VA does not discuss private employee issues or investigative actions.”

Shortly before the story was to be published, Coupaud gave a different story: “Talked to the dept staff that tracks AIBs, inspections, and such here, and there is NOT an AIB targeting the member you mentioned yesterday in our call. He had been asked to make a statement in a different AIB, but it was not against him specifically.  Just wanted to let ya know what I’d found out on that.”

But Rodriguez and Brandon Coleman, the noted marine veteran and Phoenix VA Medical Center whistleblower who recently settled his own whistleblower retaliation case with the hospital, both told TheDC the hospital is backpedaling for the media’s benefit.

Rodriguez provided an email from December 12, 2016, when he asked Nelson why he was told to appear at an AIB she responded: “Any allegations of work place harassment are taken very seriously. Therefore I have convened an AIB to get the facts in order to determine whether or not these allegations are valid. The supervisory and management group in HAS (Health Administrative Services) are being interviewed by the board since the allegations were made towards this particular group.”

Rodriguez further explained: “I am the manager of the Health administration service for this AIB. The complaint is surgically targeted towards me. No other manger in HAS is targeted. I’m the whistleblower whom the facility is after. The director clearly responded to my email and they don’t respond to AIB questions as this is a secretive inquiry.”

Convening the AIB is even more brazen given that less than a month ago Republican Arizona Senator John McCain sent the Phoenix VA Medical Center a letter and another to VA Secretary Robert MacDonald, inquiring about reports Rodriquez had given his office.

A voicemail to McCain’s Senate office was left unreturned.

Rodriguez, who has been speaking out about numerous abuses for more than a year, said the most recent AIB is just the latest in a string of retaliatory actions.

“As you can see from these emails and documents, I have been the victim of verbal assaults, whistleblower retaliation, violation of Title VII, denied a position I was selected for at a higher GS Level by the Director Amdur, threats against my life, physical threats, slander, and multiple false accusations have been lodged against me by the same people that I’m sure are behind this latest AIB,” Rodriguez said in an email to a Phoenix VA Medical Center manager from December 15, 2016.

Rodriguez said that shortly after he first blew the whistle his office was moved into a storage closet with no air conditioning and only multiple complaints to the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rectified the situation.

Coleman said the retaliation against Rodriguez is part of a pattern at the hospital.

“Tonia Laney who was the CFO and has now since retired because of all the retaliation. The head of HAS Brad Curry called Laney a ‘mud shark’ because she has biracial children. She was accused by Curry of having ‘threesomes’ with black men in her office. All of this was proven to be false and Curry has since been fired,” he said.

“In my case I brought forth wrong doing that suicidal vets were not being properly monitored and that my personal medical records were being illegally entered by coworkers violating HIPAA. After coming forward to OSC Dec 6, 2014 the retaliation got so bad I went to media on Jan 12, 13 of 2015. On January 14, 2015, the director Glen Grippen held a meeting and proposed to terminate me for being a whistleblower. After VA legal counsel told him ‘Brandon cannot be fired for being a whistleblower because the 1989 whistleblower protection act protects him, but we can come up with adverse employee action.’”

Coleman told TheDC that all the other whistleblowers, including himself, at the Phoenix VA Medical Center who have come forward have moved on to other hospitals or retired; Rodriguez is the last person left willing to speak out on fraud and abuse, making it even more important for the hospital to remove him.

Coleman and Rodriguez concurred that despite international media attention which made the hospital ground zero for the VA scandal, not much has changed and the same malfeasance continues.

“The Phoenix VA has had 7 directors in less than 3 years. Each with more baggage than the last. Secretary McDonald and Sloan Gibson continue to say the lack of high quality care at the Phoenix VA is due to staffing and being under budgeted.” Coleman said in an email. “However, after the scandal hit Phoenix in 2014 our annual budget has been increased by over $100m per year, now upwards of $660m. This leads me to ask is it truly a funding issue or is it a bad management issue that goes all the way to Secretary McDonald?”

That view was concurred by a spokesperson at the House Veteran Affairs Committee: “The committee’s investigation into these matters is ongoing, but as multiple inspector general reports and VA’s own internal ratings have confirmed, the Phoenix VA Health Care System ‎is still riddled with problems.”

An internal rating system referred to as Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning (SAIL) were leaked to the media and the Phoenix VA Medical Center was found to be at the bottom of all VA hospitals.