Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employee Landis Bradfield takes great satisfaction in helping our nation’s veterans deal with the health problems they face and has worked for the last 12 years perfecting his skills for the job.
Unfortunately, his skills have begun to deteriorate because he hasn’t helped a veteran in nearly six months.
Instead, Mr. Bradfield – who is armed with a master’s degree in nursing that he would like to use to benefit patients at the VA Illiana Healthcare System in Danville, Illinois – reports to the institution’s library at 7:30 a.m. and passes time every day since last November doing nothing.
And Bradfield thinks he knows why. He believes he was stripped of his duties and moved to a quiet corner of the library in retaliation by management for complaining about poor patient care and other problems at the veteran’s care facility.
In recent years, Mr. Bradfield drew the attention of management to a range of unsafe practices that include everything from improperly stored medicine and reused syringes to poor performance by fellow employees – complaints that led to bullying in the workplace followed by banishment to the library.
Mr. Bradfield is not alone. He and a second nurse the VA have been removed from patient care for complaining about conditions at the facility and reassigned to administrative paper work or taking classes to keep their nursing credentials current.
And even if the VA gave Bradfield the greenlight to return to work tomorrow, he would need to repeat the entire new employee-orientation process before he could return to his old job because his VA training certifications are out-of-date. In an interview with The Washington Times, Bradfield said:
“There’s still two of us [who] for six months now have provided no service to the veterans [yet are] drawing full salary. At the very least, that is a waste.” “As an employee, I am glad I’m getting my salary. As a taxpayer, I am very irritated that people get paid to do nothing.”
Still, some relief may be coming Mr. Bradfield’s way.
In April, the House oversight subcommittee on oversight and investigations held a hearing where VA employees like Bradfield were given an opportunity to air charges of continued whistleblower retaliation within the VA.
“The retaliatory culture, where whistleblowers are castigated for bringing problems to light, is still very much alive and well in the Department of Veterans Affairs,” subcommittee Chairman Mike Coffman, Colorado Republican, said at the hearing.
Critics say the retaliation continues despite the replacement of former Secretary Eric K. Shinseki with new VA Secretary Bob McDonald last July – a former top executive with Procter & Gamble. Upon taking office, McDonald said he would reduce long wait times, improve patient care and punish management officials who retaliate against lower level whistleblowers.
Despite changes at the top, retaliation has not subsided.
“The number of new whistleblower cases from VA employees remains overwhelming,” Carolyn Lerner, head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which oversees compliance with federal whistleblower statutes, told the House Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee hearing in April.
Ann Good, who has worked for eight years as a nurse at the VA facility in Danville, Virginia, has also been subject to retaliation by VA management.
Like Bradfield, Miss Good was assigned to spend her days in the library and became so bored after a month in that capacity that she asked if she could do administrative work or help departments make photocopies or do filing. Miss Good said:
“I was told I couldn’t do that anymore because it was preferential treatment and [was] told to go sit in the library…” “I just think we’ve ticked some people off, and they don’t want to let us to go back to work, to be honest.”
Meanwhile, patients suffer.
Patients face long waits for appointments, receive inadequate attention leading to preventable health problems like bedsores and, in many cases, die while waiting for attention by a country that promised veterans when they signed up that they would receive the care that they needed, that they earned and that they deserved.