WASHINGTON, August 23, 2017 – The Veteran Administration Secretary has completed investigating allegations that the Memphis VA Medical Center doctored a phony restraining order, but the conclusion is leaving more questions than answers.
In its investigation of Memphis VA employee and whistleblower Sean Higgins, the hospital allegedly not only placed a bogus restraining order in Higgins’ file but also tried and failed to get a real restraining order before then.
The goal of the restraining order may have been to bolster the VA’s case against Higgins and to further efforts to terminate him
The bogus restraining order was placed into Higgins investigative file shortly after the real restraining order was denied. Creating suspicion toward the VA, the restraining order in the file had an incorrect file number that did not coincide with Mr. Higgins case. Higgins was investigated earlier for disruptive behavior.
But, according to VA Secretary David Shulkin’s office, the whole affair was just a mix-up.
“In short, the order of protection is no longer on the record with the Shelby County Clerk’s Office because it was expunged and erased when then Interim Director James Belmont declined to pay the court fee to have it served on Mr. Higgins.” Said Kimberly McLeod, Acting Executive Director for the Office of Labor-Management Relations., in an email to Mark Bailey, chief negotiator of the American Federation of Government Employees, the union which represents Higgins. “The clerk could not confirm expungement because once a record is expunged, it is completely erased and they cannot comment on it. The Clerk confirmed that when a petitioner decides not to pursue an order of protection all the way through the hearing phase, the record will be expunged.
“The VA police relayed to the VA attorney that they were able to confirm that the Shelby Clerk put the wrong number on the initial order. The last number should have been a 5 instead of a 2. The attorney tried to get the Clerk to confirm the same in writing, but they could not do so for an expunged record. As you know, when a record is expunged, it must be treated as if it never existed.”
But Higgins and his attorney, Joree Brownlow are crying foul and say that this investigation was little more than calling the Memphis VA and getting their version of events.
As CDN previously noted, the Memphis VA not only put a bogus restraining order into Higgins investigative file but tried and failed to get a restraining order before that.
Higgins was informed he’d be terminated on the same day that President Trump signed a landmark VA reform bill which the administration claimed would protect whistleblowers; Higgins has already been terminated twice by the VA only to get his job back after the appeals’ process found the termination was without merit.
A phone call to Shelby County Clerk’s Office- where the restraining order was taken out- suggests that McLeod’s explanation doesn’t hold water. Shelby County said all their files are computer generated, making it impossible for a wrong number to be placed on a file as McLeod suggested.
Furthermore, a temporary restraining order, as Belmont received against Higgins, could not be executed if court fees had not been paid.
When Belmont, then the medical director of the Memphis VA, attempted to turn the temporary restraining order into a permanent one he was denied and only after that was the restraining order expunged.
In a previous interview with CDN, Bailey also said that current Memphis VA medical director, David Dunning, walked out of the hearing while Bailey was making a case on Higgins’ behalf.