Since getting media coverage in 2012 about my own story with the VA, people across the country have reached out to me. I listened to their stories and discovered there is a pattern of unethical practices across the country at the VA.
I listened to a few stories of women who were once employed by the VA, but had the unfortunate experience of being sexually harassed. They too, thought they were protected by law, if they came forward to get help to stop the harassment. However, once regional counsel got involved, the woman was investigated, rather than the man’s misconduct. These women were terminated based on behavioral issues. This kind of termination is so general and so vague that these women were unable to fight it in court. It reminded me in a way of how the military tends to blame the victim and blocks recourse.
When the VA slaps a woman with a behavioral issue, as the reason for why they terminated her, rather than investigating and stopping the man from harassing her, is one of the deepest injuries an institution can inflict. Not only does it bar her from obtaining other federal work, but this permanent stain on her work history, forever strips her of dignity and invalidates her as a human being.
I hope with the #Metoo movement that some of these women, who used to work for the VA, will come forward and let the public know all the ways in which the VA silences women who report harassment. My information on this subject is only anecdotal. The VA also prevents women from obtaining restraining orders, even of men who stalk women on their off time.
The VA might be more inclined to target employees on probationary status because they are the easiest employees to fire. However, for some positions probationary status can last up to 3 years. That means, for women who need to stop sexual harassment, cannot if the VA refuses to investigate those claims and would rather terminate the woman for behavioral problems. I hope an investigative journalist looks into those facts and figures in order to shed more light on the subject.
In several articles by San Francisco (KPIX 5), VA director David Stockwell talked about the complaint process, but he misled the public when he stated that the VA makes reporting harassment an easy process. Even though Stockwell apologized later for saying employees could vote with their feet if they do not like the work environment at the VA, he just happened to accidently reveal the way VA management operates. Across the country VA management uses these types of intimidation tactics behind closed doors. These kinds of statements are common and are impossible to prove, because they were given verbally.
In additional statements given to KPIX 5 by the VA, read:
“Allegations of sexual assault are very serious, and if founded are a criminal act. VA management is required to report founded criminal activity to the Office of Inspector General for investigation and victims are asked to file a police report with VA Police. Every allegation of sexual harassment presented to our management team is thoroughly assessed through various means of investigative tools, be it internal investigation or through The Office of Resolution Management until all the facts are gathered and appropriate action is taken.
There are, and will continue to be, legal and administrative consequences against employees who participate in criminal activity and/or conduct themselves in a way that is not conducive to an environment free of all forms of harassment. We have a responsibility to the Veterans we serve and our 3,500 plus employees to create an atmosphere that is safe, hold staff accountable for their actions, and that is a place of healing for our Veterans.”
However, in my former co-worker’s case, the VA at the Oakland regional office did not investigate my co-worker’s claims. In fact, during her hearing they strongly argued over the terminology, and claimed the VA does not investigate, rather they only do “fact finding”. In my co-worker’s case the Office of Inspector General was never contacted nor was any other entity, even though an employee was caught saying that my former co-worker, “[Is] the kind of person you wrap in a blanket, drag into the locker room, and beat!” The director at the time, Lynn Flint, only telephoned the director at another facility to find out if she had “heard” anything. No investigation was ever conducted.
Management never questioned any of the witnesses my former co-worker listed in her detailed letter, and then had the gall to determine it was a “he said, she said” complaint. In my co-worker’s hearing, Rachel Pennington, an Assistant Service Center Manager at the Oakland VA regional office, admitted under sworn testimony that management only does a minimal amount of investigation in order to “not” involve employees, because management does not want to invade the “privacy” of other employees. She also further admitted that management “tends to not involve third parties” when they do conduct a fact finding.
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 my former co-worker’s witnesses so they could ignore the facts. VA management did what it always does; they lie to protect each other.
What the VA says to the public is completely different than what the VA does behind closed doors. How can a woman feel safe or become safe when she knows she will be investigated if she reports someone is harassing her?
I have listened to women who have worked for the VA for several years and had received several years of exceptional marks on their evaluations that is until she reported the harassment or disrespected the harasser in some way. It appears no one is really safe if management can change the evaluations from successful to unsuccessful in such a short amount of time, even of women who have several years of exceptional evaluations.
Terminations based on behavioral issues are usually fortified by the people management is either friends with or by employees who are worried about their own livelihoods. VA managers will pit employees against each other like modern day office gladiators, where the words on paper cut deeper than any knife. VA’s culture of corruption allows managers to manipulate employees into disgracing other employees, who simply just want someone to stop rubbing up against them, or stalking them, or forcing themselves on them, or bullying them.
Even more frightening is that many of these unethical managers who protect the harasser and go after the victim are women themselves. I am not sure if they are doing it because they are worried about losing their jobs themselves, or what the reason is, but there is no denying that it is happening.
The people, who should be getting terminated for behavioral issues, are not, because the VA wants to pretend this type of behavior does not go on at the VA. And the people, who really do have behavioral issues, know they can get away with it, because many of them are just transferred.
I am writing about all of this, because I want the public to know how much corruption there is, in the hopes that the VA will be reformed into a hostile free work environment, for everyone. The more people become aware of the VA’s illegal and unethical tactics, the more people will be able to stop this behavior. During lawsuits it is extremely difficult to obtain discovery, including information on similarly situated employees. The VA often claims no one was as “bad” as the plaintiff. The VA also makes it very difficult to obtain information about other cases. If the people who were targeted came forward and shared their experiences with each other, then this would make it more difficult for the VA to win, which ultimately would force the VA to change.
As long as the VA can continue to use taxpayer money to fund its regional counsel, who is notorious for stone walling plaintiffs into exhaustion of both their will power and money, in a paper war the VA will most likely win – then nothing will change. The harassment will not stop. There will be no justice for the victim. Essentially, the VA has devised a system that gags people and prevents them from not only obtaining recourse, but prevents this system from ever being changed, until more people start doing what is right, rather than what is easy.
I am hoping that more people will come forward and share their stories in order to change VA’s culture of corruption.