(WASHINGTON)—American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. sent the following letter to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki demanding an end to the retaliation against dedicated civil servants within the Wilmington, Del. and Pittsburgh, Pa. VA health care systems.
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
United States Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary Shinseki,
On July 26, 2012, I wrote to you asking for a meeting regarding the still ongoing matter involving retaliation against Dr. Michelle Washington at the Wilmington VAMC. That facility and the Pittsburgh VAMC are both under the authority of VISN Director Michael Moreland. Meanwhile, our Local Union President in Pittsburgh was told, by a management representative, she could (falsely) allege she was ill and fail to appear at the Congressional hearing last week on the legionnaire’s outbreak. These are not the only examples of whistleblower intimidation and retaliation our union leaders have received. I am writing to ask you to immediately take forceful action and expert leadership on these matters.
Since as early as 2004, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) put the VA on notice that there have been problems at the Pittsburgh VA when it was under the direct leadership of Michael Moreland. There was a reported patient death at that time under circumstances which our local union leaders Robert Bonner and Colleen Evans questioned. Questions were raised in the Pittsburgh media at the time about the management of Mr. Moreland. As we understand it, there may have been a costly settlement in that matter, which your office may wish to investigate. The end result was not removal of Mr. Moreland, but repeated attempts by facility management to fire, investigate, and harass Mr. Bonner and Ms. Evans. This style of intimidation has proven to be a hallmark of Mr. Moreland’s leadership.
Mr. Moreland’s tenure at the Pittsburgh VA also saw the closure and destruction of their highly acclaimed Special Pathogens Laboratory. Two of the leading researchers in the world on legionnaire’s disease, Dr. Yu and Dr. Stout, were subjected to investigations and retaliation for Dr. Stout having protested the closure of the laboratory. Both researchers were forced out of the Pittsburgh VA, where they may have been able to stem the recent outbreak before patients became ill. If you have not reviewed this matter, I strongly suggest that you view the House hearing from last week and compare Dr. Yu and Dr. Stout’s version of events with that of Mr. Moreland.
Despite his poor performance as the Center Director in Pittsburgh, Mr. Moreland was promoted to VISN Director. On his watch this culture of retaliation continues, both at Wilmington and Pittsburgh. As I have previously written to you, Dr. Washington (a GS 13), who for years was rated as an “Outstanding”performer by her supervisors, was rated as “Needs Improvement” on the eve of her testimony to Congress, by her new supervisor of only two months, who was reportedly a GS 11 at the time. It is curious that this all takes place as the facility and VISN management became aware of her concerns about understaffing and her anticipated testimony to the United States Senate. This attempt to destroy the reputation of the PTSD Coordinator for the Wilmington VAMC, has resulted in her neuropsychological testing duties being transferred to the Coatesville VA. Veterans, with possible PTSD or traumatic brain injuries, are now forced to travel substantially further for diagnosis which can and has been done by Dr. Washington. Her duties as the Evidence Based Treatment Coordinator have also been removed as part of this retaliation scheme.
It is time for you to send a clear message and restore Dr. Washington’s evaluation and her duties. Your continued failure to address this issue sends just the opposite message.
Lack of action from the highest levels of the VA is, perhaps, contributing to a management culture in which a management official at the Pittsburgh VA felt emboldened to tell our Local President, Kathi Dahl, that she could simply (and falsely) tell Congress she was sick and not testify? In fact, it appears the entire Pittsburgh VA leaders called in sick rather than face questions from Congress concerning the Legionnaire’s outbreak. Members of Congress, in both parties, appeared to be dissatisfied with Mr. Moreland’s explanations. Our members, the non-management staff at that facility, were appalled to learn that VISN Director Moreland knew of a legionella problem as early as the fall of 2011 and failed to warn patients or staff. Due to the nature of the illness, we may never know how many employees or patients might have contracted some symptoms and were never tested. Deaths occurred at this facility, which Dr. Yu and Dr. Stout both testified in their expert opinions could have been avoided. This is tragic and unacceptable. Our members, your employees, are committed to giving the veterans the best care possible; we have valid reasons to question Mr. Moreland’s performance as VISN Director. We have even more valid reason to question his constant pattern of retaliation.
Other members have come forward with stories of retaliation both directly and indirectly on Mr. Moreland’s watch. Another Wilmington VAMC local union officer upon meeting with Mr. Moreland about grievance issues was told she, “needed to learn to tango.” Later after she filed a report against the public affairs officer at the Wilmington VAMC for computer misuse, the union officer was almost immediately placed under an unsubstantiated Administrative Investigation headed up by the public affairs director’s wife. This same local union in Wilmington had another officer testify to Congress in March of 2011, and six months after her testimony was subjected to an unsubstantiated Inspector General investigation.
We are totally committed to the mission of this agency and service to our veterans. In that spirit I ask you to work with us, and right these wrongs. You have indicated in the past there is no tolerance of retaliation in your administration. Minimally, until a full and complete investigation can be undertaken of these and possible other incidents that involve Mr. Moreland and his leadership, I would ask that you remove him from the position of VISN Director.
Please know I am aware that you had Dr. Petzold discuss the Dr. Washington matter with the same supervisor who gave her the low rating, and offered to set up a meeting with one of my staff and Mr. Moreland. As you can see from the discussion above, we have no confidence in Mr. Moreland’s leadership on these issues. I remain open and willing to discuss these matters directly with you, but we, and the veterans we service, need to see action now.
J. David Cox, Sr.
80 F Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001