Veterans Affairs employee fired for refusing to support firing a whistleblower

20. February, 2015|president's briefing|No comments

(February 20, 2015)

In order to further improve the lines of communication and to respond to the concerns between the National VA Council and you our members, I have established a National VA Council Briefing. This NVAC Briefing will bring you the latest news and developments within DVA and provide you with the current status of issues this Council is currently addressing. I believe that this NVAC Briefing will greatly enhance the way in which we communicate and the way in which we share new information, keeping you better informed.

 

Alma L. Lee

National VA Council, President

 

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In This Briefing:   Veterans Affairs employee fired for refusing to support firing a whistleblower

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Veterans Affairs employee fired for refusing to support firing a whistleblower

BY LUKE ROSIAK | FEBRUARY 19, 2015 | 5:00 AM; WASHINGTON EXAMINER

A Department of Veterans Affairs employee assigned to investigate whether a government whistleblower should be fired is instead being dismissed after she refused to change her finding that the target of the investigation did nothing wrong.

Rosayma Lopez, a privacy and disclosure officer who handles Freedom of Information Act requests for the Veterans Department in Puerto Rico, was asked to determine whether her colleague Joseph Colon broke privacy rules by divulging information embarrassing to the office’s boss.

Colon discovered that DeWayne Hamlin, director of the VA Caribbean Healthcare System and a longtime VA executive at facilities in the continental U.S., had been arrested in April 2014 in Florida where police said he was driving drunk and refused to say where he got painkiller pills that were found on him.

Colon also told officials in the department’s Washington headquarters about his concerns with the integrity of the VA’s hiring process. Hamlin’s criminal charges ultimately were dropped because of a prosecutor’s concerns about the legality of the traffic stop.

Colon, who worked in the Credentialing Program Support department, was accused of nine “inappropriate behaviors,” including “overhearing other people’s conversations,” “talking to others, gathering information,” and “going over the chain of command to talk to Director and Deputy director.” The accusations were lodged against Colon by Dr. Antonio Sanchez, chief of staff of the Caribbean Healthcare System, and Victor Sanchez, Colon’s immediate supervisor.

Hamlin tasked two employees with conducting an investigation to build a case against Colon. But their investigation found that “there is no evidence of a breach in private information,” that all of Colon’s performance reviews had been “outstanding” and his bosses had never raised any issues they brought up in the firing letter, such as that he complained too much about people tapping their fingers on desks.

The investigation also found that Veterans Affairs managers in Puerto Rico might have altered evidence, saying an email provided by Victor Sanchez, supposedly from Colon, was actually sent from Sanchez to himself. “There is an e-mail communication that has the appearance of having been sanitized, and original information could not be provided upon request,” the investigators wrote.

Unsatisfied with the conclusions of the first investigation, Lopez was instructed to conduct a second review, which came to a similar conclusion. Hamlin then demanded that Lopez redo it, but the conclusions were the same the third time.

Meanwhile, Colon submitted a FOIA request for records concerning Hamlin’s arrest, and for a “copy of the fact-finding investigation on myself,” which also went to Lopez for processing. VA says both requests should have been denied. Lopez said she did deny them, but released a small amount of information that couldn’t be withheld legally.

Colon’s proposed firing was reduced by department officials to a three-day suspension. That decision came after a human resources panel said the termination was “not appropriate nor within the range of reasonableness.”

Days later, on November 24, 2014, VA proposed firing Lopez, according to documents reviewed by the Examiner.

“You were again tasked to re-open your initial investigation to conduct a supplemental investigation … However, yet again, you reached the same conclusions,” wrote Nayda Ramirez, deputy director of the Caribbean Healthcare System.

Other reasons listed for her firing included leaving government laptops unattended in the office and not denying Colon’s FOIA requests.

His requests “should have been closed out without disclosing any information … You demonstrated negligence in the performance of your duties by failing to appropriately assess the request, which ultimately was disclosed unduly.”

The firing letter also claimed Lopez was 30 minutes late for work several times. After the Colon incident, her supervisor changed her start time from 8:30am to 8am, when the supervisor knew that her family schedule made that difficult. Lopez’ family has one car, and she leaves her house at 6am to drop off her husband at work and kids at multiple schools at the right times, drive 90 minutes to work, and walk 20 minutes from the parking lot, Lopez said.

So immediately after the change was made, she arrived at work at 8:30, since there was no work-related reason for the change, and worked until 5 instead of 4:30.

“They had the police remove me for staying a half hour late, even though many other employees were still there working, using an excessive show of force. I was traumatized … I hope no one has to go through this again,” she said.

While dealing with the firing proceedings, Lopez has been demoted to a job where “I’m doing nothing, eight hours getting paid and obviously bored. I can’t move from my desk or they ask me where have you been, but they won’t give me work to do, so I just sit.”

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald spoke Feb. 8 to a conference of the American Federation of Government Employees, the civil service union that represents thousands of VA workers. Colon was in the audience when McDonald said whistleblower retaliation would not be tolerated. When Colon returned home, however, he found that he had been demoted to answering the phones.

A veterans affairs spokesman did not respond to an Examiner request for comment.

“Probably because he’s new, he doesn’t realize how institutionalized the retaliation is. Maybe he thinks it’s isolated scenarios, but in my experience, at least in VA Caribbean, retaliation is institutionalized at every level,” Lopez said.

VA ‘choice cards’ cause confusion

18. February, 2015|president's briefing|No comments

(February 18, 2015)

In order to further improve the lines of communication and to respond to the concerns between the National VA Council and you our members, I have established a National VA Council Briefing. This NVAC Briefing will bring you the latest news and developments within DVA and provide you with the current status of issues this Council is currently addressing. I believe that this NVAC Briefing will greatly enhance the way in which we communicate and the way in which we share new information, keeping you better informed.

 

Alma L. Lee

National VA Council, President

 

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In This Briefing:  VA ‘choice cards’ cause confusion  

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VA ‘choice cards’ cause confusion

Initial feedback on the Department of Veterans Affairs’ new “choice card” program indicates vets and doctors alike are confused on how and when to use the cards.

  • By FederalSoup Staff
  • Feb 17, 2015

Initial feedback on the Department of Veterans Affairs’ new “choice card” program indicates vets and doctors alike are confused on how and when to use the cards, the Washington Post reports.

The cards, which were rolled out in November in the wake of last year’s patient care scandal, allow vets with long waits or who live more 40 miles from a VA facility to seek private-sector care.

Adding to the confusion, the cards were issued to all vets, whether or not they are eligible to use them. Moreover, VA Secretary Robert McDonald reported last week that only 27,000 vets so far have made appointments for care using the cards, according to the Post. That number represents only a tiny share of the 9 million people who use VA health care, the report noted.