Department of Veterans Affairs whistleblower Joseph Colon wants to know why Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal is siding with unions and shoving aside accountability for veterans.
The backdrop for the letter is a rush vote held Wednesday in the Senate.
Sen. Marco Rubio brought the 2015 VA Accountability Act to the Senate floor in an attempt to push the legislation through quickly, but Blumenthal blocked the up-or-down vote, a move unsurprising given Blumenthal’s view that accountability is achievable without busting unions.(RELATED: Democratic Sen Blocks Rush Vote To Pass VA Accountability Legislation)
But Colon, a whistleblower who reported patient care concerns to his superior and was subsequently fired from the VA health care system in San Juan, thinks Blumenthal’s move is offensive to veterans.
In a letter sent Thursday, Colon reprimanded Blumenthal for siding with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a union of government employees which Colon says has done more to block accountability at the VA than any other group. (RELATED: Veteran Community Backs New Accountability Bill, But This Union Of Govt Employees Stands In The Way)
“I truly find it offensive that you would stand up and side with the Union and the status quo that the Union provides, and you seem to not want accountability for the people that retaliated against me and other Whistleblowers,” Colon wrote to Blumenthal.
Blumenthal has insisted he doesn’t oppose accountability at the VA at all—he just disagrees with the VA Accountability Act as a means for achieving that goal. Further, he recently wrote a letter to the Department of Justice asking the agency to conduct a criminal investigation of senior VA executives. (RELATED: Top Veterans’ Democrat Wants DOJ To Investigative VA Execs)
“Senator Blumenthal has repeatedly called for criminal investigation of VA wrongdoing by the Department of Justice and stronger measures holding accountable VA employees, and he will continue to do so,” Josh Zembik, communications director for Blumenthal, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Rather than help whistleblowers, Sen. Rubio’s bill lacks adequate protections for them, increasing the risk of retaliation when they report wrongdoing. Senator Blumenthal has offered legislation that has stronger protections for whistleblowers, and imposes more enforceable accountability provisions. As Ranking Member, he continues to work on bipartisan legislation for accountability at the VA, and he will seek to meet with Mr. Colon to discuss the points he raised.”
According to Colon, the VA Accountability Act is a shot at fixing systemic problems in the department and adding real accountability, which both the VA and the VA inspector general have failed to provide. And in Colon’s case, unions haven’t helped, either.
“When I filed my Office of Special Counsel Claim, after telling our local Union President on multiple occasions, to not to file a grievance, he still did,” Colon said. “It almost wiped out my OSC claim, I believe the reason he did it was to protect Mr. DeWayne Hamlin, because a union grievance stays in house with no accountability but an OSC claim is handled outside the local agency with a possibility of accountability.”
In the case of Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick, a psychologist and whistleblower from Tomah who committed suicide, the local union told Kirkpatrick that while he should never have been retaliated against, the proper course of action was just to “stick it out.”
“The Union is embedded everywhere and they will do anything to prevent true accountability from happening,” Colon wrote.
AFGE, however, has argued that the legislation actually decreases protection for whistleblowers, and that trying to aggressively fire employees to reach a solution makes no sense. Additionally, AFGE thinks that the legislation strips employees of due process rights from all employees—not just senior executives. This would result in more retaliation against whistleblowers, and it would also discourage more whistleblowers from coming forward to report their concerns.
GOP Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, complained that unions have a “stranglehold” on the department and its leadership, making it virtually impossible to discipline or fire workers.
But even if the legislation were to pass the Senate, President Barack Obama has promised to veto the legislation, just as he vetoed the defense budget bill.