WASHINGTON, June 22, 2017 – On the same day that President Trump signed the VA Accountability Act legislation, purportedly holding the Veterans Administration accountable and protecting whistleblowers, Sean Higgins, a VA employee, and whistleblower lost his job.
“I have considered other factors including your years of service, your past work record, the seriousness of the offenses with which you have been charged,” said new Memphis VA Medical Center Medical Director David Dunning, “I have concluded that the sustained charges against you are of such gravity that mitigation of the proposed penalty is not warranted and that the penalty of removal is appropriate.”
Dunning recently took over as Medical Director on May 15, 2017.
Higgins was charged with disruptive behavior: he was accused of swearing in meetings, telling a colleague to call him Mr. Higgins, and of having a heated argument with his union representative.
But Higgins has maintained that his termination is nothing more than whistleblower retaliation.
“Whistleblowers around the nation are concerned that this legislation will make it easier to fire them (WB’s) while the real culprits management will continue their reign of terror on them. The POTUS has not reached out to WB’s in the way we had hoped to hear our plight.” Higgins said. “The VA management continues it corrupt ways while NO ONE is held accountable except WB’s. Our concern is that management be held accountable and the reprisal and retaliate stops. This new office of accountability is a good start but does not go far enough to address the corruption. As for the SECVA what has he really done in the way of accountability.”
Higgins has been employed at the Memphis VA Medical Center since 2007.
This is the third time he’s been terminated and he got his job back both times previously after the appeals process determined his termination was without merit. Brittney Lowe, the Memphis VA employee, who recently spent two months in prison, was only not terminated for but received pay while serving her sentence.
Brandon Coleman, the Phoenix VA whistleblower who settled with the VA last year, said he was hopeful for the new legislation but worried that rather than holding accountable bad managers it would be used to target whistleblowers like Higgins.
Willie Logan, public affairs officer at the Memphis VA, declined to address the controversy stating instead:
“Privacy laws prohibit our speaking to any personal, employee-specific issue. As a Federal agency, we comply with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) guidelines related to issues involving the work status of employees.”
Congressman Phil Roe addressed the VA Accountability Act:
“In the three years since committee oversight revealed that veterans at VA were dying while waiting for care, we have heard far too many instances of employees who don’t live up to the standards expected of those who serve America’s veterans but cannot be fired for wrongdoing.” Said Congressman Phil Roe (R-Tn), chairman of the House Veteran Affairs Committee. “That stops today.
“This law will give Secretary Shulkin the tools he needs and has repeatedly asked for, to hold bad actors at VA accountable. Instilling a culture of accountability at VA is the first step to bringing wholesale reform to the department, and I’m proud of the bipartisan work we put in to get this bill to President Trump’s desk. I thank President Trump and Secretary Shulkin for their unwavering commitment to our nation’s heroes, and it is an honor to stand with them on this historic day.”