Memphis Veterans Affairs whistleblower fired day before signing of VA whistlebower protection law

Just a day before President Donald Trump signed into law protections for whistleblowers at Veterans Affairs facilities around the country, a whistleblower at the Memphis VA facility was handed a termination letter, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The June 22 letter says Sean Higgins had showed “disruptive behavior” and used profanity in the workplace. Higgins said the move is the product of retaliation from upper-level administrators whom he had accused of unethical behavior. He said he used profanity in a one-on-one meeting.

…Higgins’ time at the VA has been a roller coaster ride that has seen him already fired twice and his position reinstated after appealing those decisions. In May, he filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel alleging reprisal for whistleblowing.

Higgins has filed more than 30 “disclosures” in the past alleging a range of problems at the facility, including failing to clean dialysis equipment, leaving paralyzed patients unattended and purchasing fraud schemes.

But Higgins said Monday there’s nothing to stop his current termination letter from taking effect June 30, and again plans to appeal the decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board, a move that won his job back in 2014.

The timing of the termination came just a day before Trump signed the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, a legislative measure that won wide support in Congress from both Republicans and Democrats.

But Higgins fears the legislation doesn’t go far enough and actually makes it easier to fire employees like him. The law does allow VA leaders to remove employees more easily, previously having to go through weeks of waiting and other hurdles to remove some workers.

“Whistleblowers around the nation are concerned that this legislation will make it easier to fire them while the real culprits – management – will continue their reign of terror on them,” Higgins said.

In pushing the legislation, VA Secretary David Shulkin more than once used the case of an employee at the Memphis facility as an example of why the bill was necessary. Brittney Lowe, an interior decorator employed at the Memphis VA, returned to work after serving a 60-day jail sentence for a third DUI conviction.

 

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