GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson have urged the Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald to put a stop to retaliation against Phoenix VA whistleblower Brandon Coleman.
Grassley, chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary, and Johnson, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, wrote a letter Tuesday demanding that the department reinstate Coleman and transfer him out of the abusive Phoenix VA system to another facility, where he can finally continue his work without constant harassment from superiors.
“Whistleblowers are some of the most patriotic people we know—men and women who labor, often anonymously, to let Congress and the American people know when government isn’t working so we can fix it,” the senators wrote.
“While Mr. Coleman’s case is just one example, his treatment is indicative of the many hardships federal whistleblowers—including those within the VA—face when they take the courageous step to come forward and report wrongdoing.”
The letter details just a few ways the department has retaliated against Coleman.
In December 2014, Coleman reported that the VA had illegally accessed his medical records and also told the Office of Special Counsel that the Phoenix VA was not taking proper care of suicidal veterans. This disclosure was picked up by a local media outlet, at which point hospital leadership mobilized against him to brainstorm ways to terminate his position. They were ultimately successful. While the VA attorney at the meeting noted that they could not remove Coleman for whistleblower disclosures, they could remove him for unrelated reasons.
Just a short time later, Coleman was accused of having a spat with a fellow employee. He was quickly placed on administrative leave, which he has been on since February 2015.
Still, because of Coleman’s continued fight to fix problems plaguing the hospital, Jeremy Pottle, an employee at the Phoenix VA decided to mock him by dressing up as Coleman for Halloween with a blond wig, a cane and a fake Marine Corps tattoo. The employee’s supervisor had no issues with this. While there has been an internal review conducted, the outcome is unclear, and so both senators want all documents associated with Jeremy Pottle and his supervisor Lisa Benner to be provided to Senate staff.
During his time at the VA, Coleman designed a special program to help vets fight addiction. But as soon as he was placed on admin leave, the program had to be shut down, despite its manifest success.
“Accordingly, we ask that the VA stop avoiding responsibility in this case by keeping Mr. Coleman in the indefinite limbo of administrative leave and let him go back to work,” the senators said.