WASHINGTON, August 14, 2017 — The Veterans Administration has a new human resources policy. A recently terminated Memphis VA employee and whistleblower says it should have his name on it.
The VA has issued a Human Resources Management Letter (HRML) which changes the policy for dealing with incarcerated employees:
“Employees incarcerated following a conviction, including a criminal or civil contempt proceeding, will be considered absent without leave (AWOL), which is an unauthorized absence from duty. It is not appropriate to approve leave of any kind for the period of absence required to serve a jail or prison sentence.”
The new policy appears to be in response to Brittney Lowe, a Memphis VA employee who spent 60 days in prison starting in March, but did not lose her job and was even paid while incarcerated.
Lowe was granted leave during her incarceration.
Sean Higgins is a Memphis VA whistleblower who initially helped CDN break Lowe’s story in March. “It should be called the Sean Higgins HRML,” said Higgins.
After CDN broke the story, Secretary David Shulkin repeatedly used Lowe’s story in the run up to the passage of the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act in June, a bill which gives the VA more power to fire employees.
Ironically, Higgins found out he was terminated on the day that President Trump signed the bill.
While the Memphis VA ostensibly terminated Higgins for creating a hostile working environment, he and other VA whistleblowers believe he was terminated in a retaliatory act.
After his termination, CDN reported that the Memphis VA created a bogus restraining order which was placed into Higgins’ file, and that the hospital tried and failed to get a legitimate restraining order against Higgins ex-parte, or without his knowledge.
In a wide ranging interview, Mark Bailey, the chief negotiator for the National Associate of Government Employees, the union which represents Higgins, said these disclosures are only the beginning of the problems in Higgins’s termination and Lowe’s leave.
Bailey said employees are only allowed to receive 240 hours of leave per year and since Lowe was gone for two months, she would have received far more hours than that.
Bailey says he’s asked VA Secretary David Shulkin to investigate the matter but he’s heard nothing definitive yet from Shulkin’s office. “We will be following up. I will take them to their word to a certain point.”
On Higgins’ termination, he was even more blunt: “He shouldn’t have been removed.”
Bailey said that during the hearing, Memphis VA medical director David Dunning left suddenly.
According to Bailey, an assistant came into the room while he was making his case on Higgins’ behalf and reminded Dunning he had another meeting and Dunning left before Bailey had finished making his presentation.
“He didn’t afford us the that was needed to present our case,” Bailey said. “I found that inappropriate and unprofessional.”
Willie Logan, public affairs officer for the Memphis VA, declined to address the allegations directly, he did issue a statement:
“To maintain the highest standards of privacy, as required by law, we do not provide information relative to personnel issues. Our main responsibility is to care for veterans who entrust us with their care and to ensure staff is equipped to carry out that function on all levels.”