Veterans Affairs: A Dysfunctional Workplace by Tanya Ward Jordan
With a workforce of more than 300,000 civilian employees, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is the second largest department in the U.S. Government. The VA operates the nation's largest integrated health care system and purports to maintain a "customer service" organization. But, some employees and veteran groups unwaveringly challenge that notion.
VA's mantra "I CARE," an acronym meant to reflect its core values of Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy , Respect, and Excellence draws fire from America's veterans in need of timely care and benefits. "The VA uses the disingenuous "I Care" catchphrase to veil the truth," says Chauncey L. Robinson, a disabled veteran who served in the Persian Gulf War. "If you ask me, the term best explains how the VA callously treats wounded veterans by -- Ignoring, Concealing, Altering, Rejecting and Expelling their medical and benefit claims," says Robinson. According to Robinson, VA officials destroyed his original benefits claim in 1995 and altered his medical records in 2012. He says, the VA has been processing his claim for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and a heart condition for twenty-one (21) years. In June 2012, Robinson joined the Kendall, et. al. v Shinseki, class action lawsuit. The lawsuit accuses VA officials of intentionally depriving veterans of their rights (Case No.: 12-330-CV LMB, filed June 26, 2012, U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho).
Veterans are not alone in their frustration with the VA. Present and former VA employees tell of an intolerable workplace of reprisal where civil servants suffer when exposing wrong-doing by management officials. From fiscal year 2008 thru fiscal year 2013, VA employees filed over twelve thousand EEO employment claims against VA based on its "No FEAR" report data, as required by the Notification and Federal Employee Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002. Employees commonly and markedly alleged "retaliation" as a basis for filing employment discrimination complaints against the VA.
In 2008, Jamie Fox and Oliver Mitchell learned quickly of VA's "culture of reprisal." Both veterans blew the "whistle" while employed by the VA. They did so at a time when VA was feverishly struggling to meet President-Elect Barack Obama's "aggressive goal to transform VA into a modern 21st century organization that would effectively and efficiently care for Veterans" (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs FY 2014-2020 Draft Strategic Plan (p8).
In 2008, Jamie Fox worked in VA's Oakland office as a claims processor. The female U.S. Navy veteran fell victim to VA's dysfunctional culture after she brought to management's attention the VA's mishandling of the disability claim of U.S. Navy veteran, Hosea Roundtree. In short, VA denied Roundtree a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) claim. Fox, a dutiful employee, verified that Roundtree suffered from PTSD and that he had once been in combat serving on a Navy destroyer after a tour off the coast of Beirut in 1983. Believing Mr. Roundtree's claim had been denied based on faulty information, Fox brought her concerns to management. Subsequently, Fox reports she was forced out. She had to make a decision to be fired or to resign. After leaving the VA, Fox filed a lawsuit against the VA.
"An internal VA document later showed the agency failed to perform its duty to assist in nearly 11,000 cases at the time" (Democracy Now).
Similar to Jamie Fox, Oliver Mitchell faced reprisal while performing his job at the VA's Los Angeles Medical Center. In 2008, the U.S. Marine veteran, served as a GS-5 Patient Services Assistant in the Imaging Service Radiology section. He had achieved "excellence" in performing his duties. But, the former VA employee soon drew management's wrath after he made a "whistleblower" disclosure about VA officials devised strategy to beat back the backlog. Mitchell, who is now homeless and jobless, recounted to the Coalition For Change, Inc. (C4C) that in 2008 VA officials called him into a "System Redesign" meeting where his supervisor tried to use him as a scapegoat to destroy patient MRI orders. Mitchell says after refusing to purge patient records and after filing complaints he was constructively removed from federal service. Mitchell has a pending lawsuit against the VA. He filed the complaint pro se in September 2013 (Mitchell v Shinseki, No. CV 13-6030-ODW (CW).
Despite Mitchell's repeated efforts to have the Office of Special Counsel address his concern about VA officials cancelling, without inspecting, a ten-year backlog of diagnostic services (MRI's) to thousands of veterans, the investigative agency shut the case. The OSC simply accepted VA's response, as proper, "that all imaging services across the country were instructed to mass purge all outstanding imaging orders." Based on documentation that veteran Mitchell provided to C4C, it appears that the OSC made little, if any, attempt to either validate the legality of VA officials purging patient records; or assessing whether the VA was in compliance with its Records Control Schedule 10-1 or any governing document retention requirements. See letter dated April 30, 2013 and the audio youtube of VA officials discussing "deleting" the backlogs.
Recently CNN reported at least nineteen veterans have died due to delays in simple medical screenings like colonoscopies, at several VA hospitals.
Veteran Isaac Decatur, a C4C member, found both the Fox and Mitchell cases disturbing, but, not surprising. "Cover-up, conspiracy and retaliation are staples within VA's troubled workforce," says Isaac Decatur, who successfully proved that VA managers at the New Orleans Medical Center had broken civil rights laws. Evidence in a related case against VA manager, Jeanette Butler, disclosed that the official was "abusing the rules." Evidenced deemed credible by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) proved that VA officials had placed Isaac Decatur, Morsie Porter, Ralph Saunders, and other veteran employees on a "blacklist" and had targeted them for removal from federal service after they filed discrimination complaints (VA-Case 200L-0629-2004100828).
"Not one of the VA officials at the New Orleans Medical Center who broke the law received discipline," says Decatur. Decatur wrote to President Obama with his concerns about the lack of workforce accountability within Veterans Affairs. He later received a reply letter from the EEOC. Disturbingly, the letter disclosed that -- "While EEOC orders agencies to consider, we have no authority to issue discipline."
About The Coalition For Change, Inc. (C4C)
The Coalition For Change, Inc. (C4C) is a Washington, DC based organization that promotes racial equality and exposes retaliation in the federal government. Last year, C4C launched its "Unleash No FEAR" campaign petitioning President Obama to sign an executive order calling for mandatory discipline for public officials that break discrimination and whistleblower protection laws. Fifty years after the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, federal officials continue to violate laws with impunity and without consequences. View C4C's video entitled - Veterans Affairs Dishonoring America's Veterans and Civil Servants. Also, see 'Unleash No FEAR" petition on change.org site.