CHICAGO, Feb. 12, 2016 – A Veteran Affairs whistle-blower told CDN the VA continues to target him, even after a federal judge ordered the VA to give him his job back.
Sean Higgins was featured in a CDN story in September 2015 detailing how his appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) was taking about twice as long as normal.
Shortly after the story, the MSPB judge, Pamela Jackson, ruled that his firing from the Memphis VA in 2014 was without merit and ordered the VA to reinstate him with full back pay.
Higgins said he returned to work in January 2016 but was given an office with no computer, given no work and told to sit in the office and do nothing for the entirety of each work day.
“That (sitting and doing nothing) is stressful in itself,” Higgins said.
After three weeks, Higgins said he complained to the Employee Assistance Office in the Memphis VA, which sent him to a psychiatrist for an assessment.
“I am continuing to treat Sean Higgins for anxiety and depression. Working at the VA exacerbates these symptoms,” Dr. Amy Balentine stated in her report to the VA. “He continues to need medical leave from work.”
In early February 2016, Higgins asked for sick leave to treat his symptoms; he told CDN that this should not have been an issue because he built up six weeks of sick leave and another six weeks of annual leave, which would cover the absence.
But instead of giving Higgins sick leave, the Memphis VA classified him as non-pay leave status.
“I need a full explanation as to why I was placed in a non-pay status leave without pay (LWOP) for the pay period ending 2/12/2016. I requested sick leave after the Employee Assistance Program recommended on 21 Jan. 2016 that I be removed from the hostile working environment.” Higgins said in an email to the VA.
Joree Browlow is Higgins’ attorney who represented him at the MSPB. She told CDN that she considers this qualification to be no different from being terminated.
On top of that, Higgins said that, though Judge Jackson ordered to VA to pay Higgins his back pay amounting to about a year and a half of work, from his August 2014 termination to the decision in October 2015, in 60 days the VA has still not paid him that money either.
Since his arrival in 2007, Higgins has been a thorn in the side of the administration at the Memphis VA, blowing the whistle on a number of issues.
He initially alerted Memphis media to improper cleaning of the dialysis machines in May 2014. He was the source for several Daily Caller exposes later that year, one of which — an expose which revealed the Memphis VA closed a therapeutic pool for a lack of funds months after approving more than $1 million in bonuses — was then featured on the O’Reilly Factor.
In August 2015 Higgins also put CDN in touch with a disabled veteran who provided videos showing a nurses’ station regularly unattended in the ward that treats quadraparaplegics.
Willie Logan, spokesperson for the Memphis VA, declined to comment, citing privacy issues.