VA benefits claims employees, including one from AFGE, took to Capitol Hill this week to detail how they are retaliated against and abused when blowing the whistle on mismanagement and wrongdoing against veterans.
Speaking before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, AFGE Local 940 President Joseph Malizia said morale at the Philadelphia Regional Office under the leadership of Diana Rubens took a turn for the worse because of her management philosophy: deny, cover up, and repeat.
Malizia gave an example of an employee who was found dead in his house after complaining about being bullied by the Pension Management Center (PMC) training instructors. The employee was a veteran who suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and his complaints of a hostile work environment were repeatedly ignored by management.
“I have not and am not stating that this employee’s death was directly caused by his treatment at the Philadelphia RO. My complaint to Director Rubens was that this situation is another example illustrating that there is definitely a pattern of problems in the Philadelphia PMC that needs to be addressed,” Malizia said.
The hearing came after a VA Office of Inspector General report last week detailed several problems about benefits claims processing in Philadelphia. More than 31,000 veterans’ inquiries faced massive delays of 312 days, for example. There was a manipulation of dates to make old claims look new. Whistleblowers who spoke up were retaliated against. Employee morale, which was already in the dump, took a nose dive. Instead of fixing the problem, Rubens said in employee group meetings that morale was the employees’ responsibility, not management’s.
Another serious problem in Philadelphia is management’s handling of requests for reasonable accommodation from employees with disabilities. The requests are routinely delayed or denied, forcing the employees to file an equal employee opportunity complaints and causing unnecessary stress on them.
“Some of these cases were as simple as changing an employee’s desk/seat from under an air vent or approving telework for medical reasons. The actions to deny or delay these resolutions seem punitive and retaliatory,” he said, adding there are several pending EEO cases fitting this pattern which could have easily been resolved. Now VA will incur additional expenses and lost productivity regardless of the outcome.