WASHINGTON, April 13, 2017 — A Phoenix VA Medical Center whistleblower is crying foul, saying a retaliatory punishment is an affront to free speech.
Kuauhtemoc Rodriguez is a scheduling manager at the Phoenix VA Medical Center and military veteran.
In October 2016, his disclosures led to a scathing report from the VA Office of Inspector General which found enormous backlogs, including 215 deceased patients who still had appointments which needed to be booked.
Rodriguez, who goes by K-Rod, said the hospital has been trying to terminate him ever since.
Now, they may get their chance.
That email was part of a thread of emails which suggested management at the hospital was retaliating against him.
The retaliation was part of a campaign, said Rodriquez including being passed over for promotions, being physically assaulted, being threatened with investigations, being under surveillance, and being excluded from staff meetings.
The Phoenix VA Medical Center says he violated their policy on releasing “sensitive personal information.”
Paul Coupaud, public affairs officer for the hospital, released this statement:
“The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is obligated to ensure the confidentiality of its beneficiaries’ and employees’ personal identifying information, including sensitive information that can be used to distinguish or trace an individual’s identity, such as name, social security number, or date of birth. Accordingly, all VA employees must take annual privacy training.
“As a part of that training, all VA employees must read, acknowledge and certify their understanding of the VA Privacy and Information Security Awareness Rules of Behavior. The failure of any employee to adhere to these rules, including by making an unauthorized disclosure of sensitive personal information, is grounds for disciplinary action ranging from counseling to removal; and, may result in criminal liability.”
Rodriguez says he never violated any policy. He says that release of “sensitive personal information” must include the release of an individual’s social security number and not merely their name and he believes he has the law on his side.
“In McLean vs TSA (Transportation Security Administration), the Supreme Court ruled that an agencies’ regulations do not trump a whistleblower’s first amendment right to free speech. The Phoenix VA is violating my constitutional rights.”
McLean vs. TSA is a 2014 case where an air marshal made a similar disclosure. According to some interpretations, the Supreme Court ruling gave broad leeway to whistleblowers in disclosures:
“Indeed, Chief Justice John Roberts’s sixteen-page opinion for the majority largely mimics MacLean’s brief in holding that (1) the exemption from the Whistleblower Protection Act for disclosures “specifically prohibited by law” does not apply to disclosures prohibited solely by TSA regulations; and (2) the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001 did not itself prohibit MacLean’s disclosure of alarming lapses in post-9/11 aviation security to a reporter.”
Brandon Coleman is a former employee of the Phoenix VA whose whistleblower case led to a well-publicized settlement with the hospital. Coleman says Rodriguez is being targeted and his own case is proof of that.
“I think it is now clear as day that they are pursuing K-Rod and are using this BS privacy issue to go after him. If this is not currently the case then why did Phoenix never go after me for continuing to name Penny Miller, director Grippen, Lisa Benner, Jeremy Pottle, David Jacobson—all by name—over and over again nationally on tv and in print?”
When this question was posed to Coupaud, he did not answer it directly:
“I’m not privy to the personnel actions of other employees, even when they reach the media, so it’s not possible for me to know why one employee was disciplined but not another.”
Beyond that, Both Rodriquez and Coleman, asked rhetorically why, with the numerous scandals at the hospital, no one but the whistleblower ever faces any punishment.
Coleman says the reason Rodriguez is targeted is because he’s the only whistleblower left at the hospital:
“It’s sad now because they are going after Krod for the same stuff and instead of working to settle with him the Phoenix VA has circled the wagons,” Coleman said, “and really thinks to go after the whistleblower for exposing a name of who retaliated against him is enough to fire him.”
Though the Phoenix VA Medical Center is where the VA scandal started, Rodriguez says little has changed since:
“The only improvement has been cosmetic at best. The same power brokers that have and continue to delay and cause harm to Veterans are firmly in charge. Not even President Trump could get the executives that abuse Veterans through mismanagement at the VA removed. They answer to no one, not Congress, not the President, not Veterans.
“VA executives have the power to violate ones’ civil rights, violate constitutional rights, and then remove a person for being a whistleblower without cause. All this goes on daily, Vets can’t get care, can’t get medical bills paid, can’t get dialysis, vascular surgeries, other specialized surgeries, home based care, medical equipment, or even timely care. No, the Phoenix VA has not improved and it is really disturbing that there continue to be visits by politicians who in turn don’t make the VA accountable, the only thing we get are photo ops and comments that the VA is improving.”
Rodriguez had until April 13 to respond and now hospital management will determine his fate; a range of punishments is possible including termination.
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