Memphis VA whistleblower faces third termination


WASHINGTON, May 24, 2017 – The Memphis VA Medical Center is set to end the employment of its chief critic yet again. Sean Higgins faces another termination for alleged disruptive behavior, and he has until May 31 to respond to the latest set of charges.

Higgins has been a thorn in the side of the hospital for nearly a decade. The Memphis VA has already tried twice to get rid of him since he first became an employee at that facility in 2007. He was terminated for the first time in 2008 and once again in 2014, only to get his job back both times.

In May 2014, he alerted the Memphis media to the hospital’s improper cleaning of its dialysis machines. Later that year, he was the source for several Daily Caller exposes, one of which revealed that the Memphis VA had closed a therapeutic pool due to a lack of funds after approving over $1 in employee bonuses. The incident was later highlighted on Fox News’ then most popular prime time program, The O’Reilly Factor.

In August 2015 Higgins also put this reporter in touch with a disabled veteran who provided videos showing a nurses’ station regularly unattended in the hospital ward responsible for treating quadraplegics. That story was later covered on the Fox News Channel and locally.

During the following years, CDN ran additional stories, including one highlighting, among others, the Memphis VA hospital’s improper handling of bio-hazardous material and, in 2017, another on that institution’s secret waitlist, both based at least in part on Higgins’ information.

Now, the hospital is citing three incidents involving Higgins, which, they allege, form a pattern of disruptive behavior. In one incident, which occurred on April 10, 2017, Higgins was approached by another employee who referred to him by his first name.

“You need to address me by Mr. Higgins,” Higgins replied according to the complaint.

“Is he serious?” the employee asked of another individual.

In another incident, which occurred on March 16, 2017, Higgins became irate while meeting with his Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) case manager and was alleged to have said, “What do I have to do? Do I have to put them into the ground?” Higgins told CDN that the EEO meeting was a private meeting which was not even supposed to be leaked to the public.

In a third incident, which occurred on February 24, 2017, he was alleged to make a veiled threat toward a manager. The complaint also alleged that Higgins used profanity during another meeting.

Higgins says that since he’s returned to work, his paychecks have been repeatedly shortchanged, payroll errors have led to personal tax issues, and, while on the job, he’s been left alone and not given any work. All the incidents seem to arise from his frustration over his working conditions.

Higgins’ treatment at the Memphis VA Hospital stands in stark contrast to that of fellow employee Brittney Lowe, who has been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol three times, and recently spent sixty-days in prison. Unlike Higgins, Lowe was welcomed back to work and her continued employment doesn’t appear to be under threat.

CDN has also learned that in another case, in which David Huhnan, who heads the business office, confronted a subordinate and threw papers off the subordinate’s desk. The complaint states

“On Thursday October 20, 2016, you were scheduled to work 7:30AM-4PM. At approximately 8:30AM, you went to a subordinate’s office. While there, you purposely threw files that were stacked on a table to the floor and said, ‘you can pick them up.’”

As a result of this incident, Huhnan was initially recommended for a fourteen day suspension, a penalty that was later reduced to a letter of reprimand.

Higgins believes the unequal treatment of these employees compared to his own is nothing more than an example of the hospital’s management trying to retaliate against a whistleblower.

“In the words of former HVAC Chairman Jeff Miller ‘It is some rotten individuals that work for the department of Veteran Affairs that need to be fired not protected,’” Higgins said in a statement to this reporter. “I ask when will VA whistleblowers get the protection needed.”

Higgins still faces potential termination from the hospital and has been given until the end of the month to respond to the notice.

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