Thanks to President Trump, Brandon Coleman, the Phoenix whistleblower who nearly lost his job for exposing inadequate care in the Veterans Administration scandal two years ago, is finally getting the recognition he so richly deserves as he prepares to step into his dream job of protecting veterans.
Back in 2015, Coleman was an addiction counselor in the Phoenix VA facility when he told the inspector general that many suicidal veterans were not being cared for in a timely manner after he witnessed five suicidal veterans leaving the hospital without receiving help.
“They weren’t being watched, so I came forward because of that. At the same time, as a disabled Marine who receives my care through the VA, employees were rifling through my medical records,” said Coleman.
After reporting his concerns, managers retaliated against him by opening up an internal investigation into Coleman, accusing him of misconduct instead of addressing the dangerous issues he had tried to point out. Coleman then spent 18 months on leave while settling the dispute with the VA, and programs he had initiated to help veterans recover from addiction were terminated.
When President Trump won the election last November, Coleman, 42, reached out to him and offered to help the new president make things right in the troubled department and start protecting the people who were willing to give their lives for the continued freedom of our country.
“[President Trump] needs people around him who will tell him what’s really going on and not just what he wants to hear,” said Coleman, just after the election. “The VA does a lot of good for a lot of people, and at the same time, there’s a culture of fear that employees have that they’re too afraid to speak up.”
Coleman told reporters back then that he wants veterans to be able to choose their doctors and not be forced to go to a busy VA hospital emergency room even when they have a common cold. He said he also wants to see the agency put an end to staff bonuses, which he blames for creating the incentive to manipulate wait times. He also wants cushy pensions to be taken away from those who retaliate against whistleblowers.
“People need to be worried for their jobs. All the suits in D.C. need to be worried for their jobs. Change is coming, it’s time to drain the swamp,” he predicted one year ago, and now his words will have even more weight, since President Trump has appointed Coleman to be one of the first hired to work in the new “Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection.”
President Trump created the office with an executive order on April 27, and Coleman stood behind him in the VA headquarters as he signed it.
Coleman, who a is father to three military members, will report to Washington, D.C. in mid-August, where he’ll be part of an initiative being headed up by Navy and Air Force veteran Peter O’Rourke.
In response to all of the problems that have plagued the VA in recent years, President Trump created the OAWP this past spring. Dedicated to improving the needs of Veterans across the United States, the agency is tasked with providing investigative internal affairs services necessary to improve health, benefits and cemetery needs for each and every veteran, according to the White House. The office was established with the intention of making VA officials more aggressive in finding and removing bad workers and protecting the whistleblowers who help them do it.
Headquartered in Washington D.C., the agency has satellite resources and programs in additional VA facilities across the United States.
“It was a huge victory for whistleblowers,” Coleman said. “To think that [this is] the agency that tried to destroy me, and now I’m being paid to help them fix this mess, that’s humbling.”
The new office was afforded some authority in June when Congress passed legislation empowering the VA to fire bad workers. Also, with the new law, supervisors will be evaluated on their ability to protect whistleblowers from retaliation. It aligns nicely with President Trump’s campaign promise to root out what had become a culture of corruption in the department.
The office is in its early stages of development, Coleman said. At this point, O’Rourke is building a team, and Coleman has been hired to serve as a liaison between whistleblowers and VA officials.
He’s also being encouraged by his leaders to speak out about how whistleblowers have been treated by the VA.
“Lots of people at the VA wanted to see me hit by a bus,” Coleman recalled, noting, “I can’t believe that the same agency that tried to fire me when I first spoke out on Jan. 12, 2015, is now paying me to talk to the media. For the first time, instead of being thought of as part of the problem, we’re being thought of as part of the solution.”
Coleman added, “As of now, if whistleblowers can finally be brought to the table, we’re going to find out what the problems are. And if we can get management to listen instead of hunting the whistleblowers, like has been done in the past, we can get the problem solved, which betters the care for our nation’s heroes.”