When I served honorably in the US Navy, I was injured in service, and was instructed by the Navy to receive help from the Department of Veterans Affairs, also referred to as the “VA”, after I was discharged.
The VA is divided into 3 main branches, National cemetery, Veterans Health Administration also referred to as “VHA”, and Veterans Benefit Administration, also referred to as “VBA”. VBA can access VHA health records, but VHA cannot access VBA records.
The VBA created a file about me, known as a claim-file or C-file, every veteran’s C-file contains all of their military records, medical records and more.
About 10 years ago, I started working at the VBA regional office that processed and stored my C-file in Oakland California. My managers were supposed to transfer my C-file to Reno VARO within 3 days of my employment there, because it is a conflict of interest to have veteran employees’ C-files on location where they are employed. I later learned that my C-file was not transferred to Reno VARO until mid-April 2008, a whopping 5 months after I was employed at Oakland VARO.
For about 3 months I silently observed a co-worked I did not know be repeatedly harassed, with every new week the frequency and intensity of the harassment increased. I could tell it was really having an effect on her. It was also very disturbing to me to see. I did not understand why other people did not see this too.
I was not sure what to do. I thought about talking to another co-worker to get their opinion, but I had a lot of hesitations. I talked with my parents to get their opinions. I talked with several of my friends, many of who are professionals to get their advice. The resounding answer I received from everyone recommended that I report to my supervisor what I had been observing.
“Yes, Report it they all said.”
The real turning point for me was when I realized, the man harassing my co-worker was turning other people against her for no apparent or visible reason to me. There was no justification for the behavior I witnessed. I finally told my co-worker what I had been observing for the past 3 months, after a friend of the man harassing her told me, “She’s the kind of person you wrap in a blanket, drag into the locker room, and beat!” I was shocked.
I was very familiar with what a blanket party was after serving 5 years in the Navy. Blanket parties are a violent group attack, usually done in the middle of the night, in a barracks situation. The victims head and body are covered with a blanket, which prevent her from fighting back or identifying the assailants. While I was in boot camp, several unfortunate individuals were victim to this violence. Some received broken bones and serious head injuries.
I told my co-worker, who I will refer to as “Ms. A”, everything I had been observing and hearing directly with my own eyes and ears. Ms. A, expressed the grief she had been silently suffering and was grateful and relieved I came forward. We decided to speak with other employees, who also may have been directly observing the harassment. Some of these co-workers agreed to come forward as a witness.
Ms. A met with her supervisor, who I will refer to as “Ms. K,” and gave her a detailed letter. Management said they were going to investigate. However, their fact finding did not include asking any of the witnesses Ms. A had listed in her letter. Management concluded that it was a “He said, She said” complaint and considered the issue resolved without taking any further action.
I told Ms. A, “but no one asked me what I saw and heard with my own eyes and ears?”
Ms. A replied, “Management did not question any of my witnesses.
I asked, “Then how can management claim it is a he said, she said complaint if they do not find out what other people witnessed?
“Good questions, she replied. They want me to go through dispute resolution with him, but he is not taking any responsibility for his actions. He is twisting the whole situation around, claiming I have been disrespectful to him so how can I come to a resolutions with a dishonest person?”
I decided to come forward and tell Ms. K everything I had been observing. Ms. K appeared sincere and genuine in her concern for Ms. A, and requested I let her know, as soon as possible, everything I observed, so she could stop the harassment.
So over a period of months, I did exactly what she asked me to do. I kept her abreast with emails and verbal communication.
However, every time management allegedly spoke with Mr. Harasser, his bad behavior increased. He also began to target me.
I later learned that Ms. K had been very disingenuous with me, she had actually aligned herself with Mr. Harasser from the beginning, unbeknownst to me at the time, and she wrongly believed Ms. A and I were harassing him. She never once told me to stop reporting to her.
During the legal battles manager Ms. R testified under sworn testimony, the following:
Question: Would you [Ms. R], have expected such a fact finding to include interviews with witnesses [Ms. A] named in her complaint?
Ms. R answered: “We..our..our attempt is to gain the pertinent facts that we can doing the minimal amount of investigation necessary in order to not involve employees unless necessary. So it was determined, based on the facts and the details provided, that fact finding was appropriate with [Ms. A] and [Mr. Harasser]”
Question: Did you ask Ms. K whether she had contacted [the witnesses Ms. A identified in her written statement]?
Ms. R answered: “We didn’t feel that enough information was provided that would cause us to go to persons that we felt – we didn’t want to invade their privacy or to bring more attention to the claim unnecessarily. We—tend to not involve third parties, unless there’s enough of a factual basis which would lead to us having to obtain more information.”
Question: Well, how do you do a fact finding if you don’t interview people to get the facts?
Ms. R answered: “We felt that on the information that was provided, the level of detail in the statement itself, led itself to enough for us to make a determination. Like I said, after the follow-up conversations with both [Ms. A] and [Mr. Harasser].”
So says the Bullshit fairy. Let’s quick with the euphemizing and call it for what it really is, Oakland VA managers speak a lot of lies and bullshit.
Circular reasoning, among other unethical practices, are par for the course. Management determined it was a “he said, she said” complaint, because they wanted it to be a “he said, she said” complaint. They ignored Ms. A’s witnesses so they could ignore the facts. VBA management did what it always does; they lie to protect each other.
Employees are scared in to silence when they repeatedly witness managers acting with impunity. Self-preservation trumps doing what is right and ethical. Federal employees hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil. There are a whole lot of complicit monkeys at the Oakland VA regional office.
Not only did Mr. Harasser’s bad behavior become more brazen, but he was also able to turn some of Ms. A’s co-workers against her, because they wrongly believed the lies Mr. Harasser told them. He used an old trick: predator plays victim. He spread malicious & unfounded rumors around the office about her.
Sadly, most of her team pretended she was invisible and made fun of her behind her back. They judged her without knowing her and shunned her in the work place. And, they thought their actions were justified.
What people did not know about Ms. A, was that she had chosen a humble life in service to those who experienced injustice and oppression. She actively supported the civil rights of others, especially to those who did not have a voice. She served as a naval flight officer in the early 1970s – a time when there were very few women in that position. Movies were made portraying her work. She authored a book that required a lot of research.
What they did not know about Mr. Harasser was that he had sued some of his former employers for discrimination in the workplace. Some of these places were other federal agencies, so he was very familiar with what was needed to file a complaint. He banked on people’s gullibility, especially with stereotypes.
Ms. K testified that she didn’t know why I kept coming to tell her the things I did. She said, she thought I was childish, and didn’t know how to mind my own business. A federal VA manager thought I was childish for reporting workplace harassment of a co-worker.
Since it is against the law to retaliate against an employee for reporting harassment, management concocted an elaborate lie to force both Ms. A and I to resign on the same day. I will talk about this in a future video.
After witnessing the continuous unethical behavior of VA managers, I became very concerned about the security of my C-file. I contacted my congresswoman at the time, Lynn Woolsey, who acted quickly to restrict my C-file from Oakland VARO. My C-file was classified as security level 8. She also assured me via a congressional letter that Oakland VARO would never have access to my C-file.
In 2015, for some unknown reason, my C-file’s security clearance was downgraded and the papers in my C-file were scanned and digitized, making my once protected C-file accessible to anyone, anywhere with access to VBA’s new computer system called Veterans Benefits management system (VBMS)
Whoever digitized my C-file, did not submit it to the Restricted Access Claim Center (RACC), in St. Paul, Minnesota. The RACC is responsible for protecting and restricting, digital C-files from certain people, such as co-workers and managers, including former employees for a limited time and C-files that have a conflict of interest with their local regional office, like my C-file did and still does.
I wrote a letter to the RACC explaining why I needed RACC protection. I specifically stated Oakland VARO did not have authorization to view my C-file. Instead of protecting my C-file from Oakland VARO, the director of the RACC in St. Paul, totally disregarded my letter and assigned jurisdiction to Oakland VARO, against my permission.
My former hostile managers and co-workers, who I testified against in Ms. A’s lawsuit, not only accessed my C-file, but they also created bogus claims in my name, tried to reduce my benefits and claimed I owed the VA money. They abused their civil servant positions to seek revenge against me. And there is no one who is holding them accountable. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
I have been trying for several months to obtain a list of every person who has ever accessed, viewed, and/or queried any part of my C-file. It is every veteran’s right to know who has been viewing their private information. The VA did send me a list, but the list they sent me was incomplete. There were many missing names and dates. VBA claimed that was all the people and dates they could find. However, I have evidence proving otherwise.
The problem is that I need VBA’s official list in order to make a privacy violation complaint. The person who is currently scrubbing the list is the director of the RACC in St. Paul Minnesota. The same person who totally disregarded my letter asking for RACC protection and assigned my C-file to the Oakland VARO, against my permission.
To date no one has been held accountable for violating my privacy and my constitutional rights to fair and unbiased due process. VBA claims they did not “legally” have to protect my C-file from Oakland VARO because it had been more than 3 years since I worked there. VBA completely ignored the “conflict of interest” rule. No one has addressed the bogus claims that were made either, despite my numerous attempts to obtain help.
Although I finally obtained RACC protection, Oakland VARO still has access to my digital C-file because the VBA’s new computer system, VBMS, uses an outdated security control system. The VBMS computer system, used by VBA to store and process digital C-files, is the same old control system that was used for paper C-files. The old security control system was good for paper C-files, but is out dated for digital C-files. Paper C-files were secured before VBMS. Digital C-files in VBMS are unsecured, that is until congress does something to create a more secure system.
It’s easier to conceptualize the out dated security system as a pyramid, scaled 1 to 9, where 9 has the most restriction. The higher the level, the fewer people can view the C-file. The higher the security level, the fewer people there are to help a veteran with their C-file. C-files that are classified at security level 8 and above, cannot receive help from the public contact line and veterans service organizations, even with simple tasks, like changing an address.
The problem is that some of the people who accessed my C-file have high security level clearances, so it doesn’t matter what security level my C-file is at, if the higher-level managers who I want restricted from viewing my C-file, still have access.
My former managers and co-workers, especially those who created elaborate lies to force Ms. A and I to resign, so they could protect the man who was harassing her, absolutely have no permission or authority to be viewing my C-file in any capacity.
The solution to update VBA’s security control system for digital C-files is to have congress legislate new laws that can make VBA do so. VBA cannot change a law passed by congress, that’s why it is imperative that this responsibility falls on congress to correct this problem. The VA cannot be trusted to fix this security problem, because VA directives, memorandums, and protocols can be changed by the VA at any time, as well as, their interpretation and adherence to their own made up rules. A well written law minimizes ambiguity and ensures adherence and accountability.
Veterans who have a C-file have no idea who has been viewing their C-file. The whole system is based on trust and integrity – an honor system. Historically, VBA ignores veterans who request a list of the people who have accessed their C-file.
Lists are referred to as an “accounting of disclosures” (audit) and are considered a “FOIA” request, under the Freedom of Information Act. If a veteran is lucky enough to receive their FOIA request, it often takes months to years to get, and is scrubbed or redacted of names and dates.
By signing this petition and sharing with your friends, you help me get the attention of our legislatures, who can help me and other veterans like me by:
- Making the VBA provide me with an unredacted list of every person who has accessed or queried any part of my C-file.
- Make VBA managers and employees accountable for violating my privacy and for abusing their positions of power to retaliate against me and for using their public positions to seek revenge.
- Pass laws that will protect my C-file and other veterans’ C-files from specific employees and managers.
- Make each veteran a watchdog over their own C-file by releasing the unredacted accounting of disclosures immediately upon request & whenever requested. And make the reporting of privacy violations easy and efficient. Every Veteran has a right to know who has been viewing their private information and there must be an enforceable law to deter people from accessing a veteran’s C-file without first having authorization or permission by the veteran.
Become an everyday hero for a veteran.