WASHINGTON, July 17, 2017 – The Memphis VA Medical Center tried and failed to get a restraining order against Sean Higgins, a whistleblower. On March 17, 2017, then Memphis VA medical director, James Belmont Jr., applied for an ex-parte, meaning done without knowledge, restraining order against the Memphis VA employee.
As CDN previously reported, during the Memphis VA’s investigation of Higgins into purported workplace harassment the hospital placed a bogus restraining order into the investigative file.
The failed attempt to get a restraining order was not documented in Higgins’ investigative file. This new revelation means the hospital tried to covertly get a restraining order and when that failed, allegedly created one.
Now, it appears the VA Secretary, David Shulkin wants answers.
After Mark Bailey, the Chief Negotiator for Higgins’ union, the National Association of Government Employees, sent Shulkin an email with a link to a local news story about the initial allegations regarding the restraining order was placed into Higgins file, the secretary’s office responded with this email:
“The Secretary has received your email dated July 6, 2017. He has forwarded your inquiry to VA leadership for review and direct feedback to you, and someone will contact you within 7-10 business days,” sent on July 6, 2017.
When this reporter sent an email to Shulkin about the attempt to obtain an ex-parte restraining order against Higgins, the secretary’s office gave a similar response:
“The Secretary has received your email dated July 14, 2017. He has forwarded your inquiry to VA leadership for review.”
Emails to Willie Logan, public affairs officer for the Memphis VA, Sandra Glover public affairs office for the Veteran Integrated Services Network 9 (the regional VA office which includes the Memphis VA), and to David Dunning, the current Memphis VA Medical Director, were all left unreturned.
Higgins was informed he was being terminated for purported workplace harassment on the day that President Trump signed his landmark VA bill which, among other things, was supposed to add layers of protection to whistleblowers.
He, his attorney Joree Brownlow, and scores of other VA whistleblowers have called his termination a clear cut case of retaliation.
The revelations of shenanigans in the investigation that led to Higgin’s termination have been uncovered since; despite the email by the secretary’s office, no one in the VA has commented directly on Higgins’ termination, it’s timing, or the apparent fraud involved.
The Memphis VA, like many struggling VA hospitals, went through a merry go-round of medical directors; in January 2016, then medical director C. Diane Knight was reassigned after years of scandals and the hospital went through two temporary medical directors, including Belmont, before settling on a permanent replacement, David Dunning, in May 2017.