Several years ago a mutual friend of mine first introduced me to Brandon Coleman at a favorite breakfast place of ours aptly named, Matt’s Big Breakfast. All three of us served in the Marines, my buddy going on to become a prominent lawyer here in Phoenix, and I just began my MBA program. Brandon at the time was doing great things within the Phoenix VA, life was good and things seemed on the up and up. We immediately became good friends.
The Phoenix Veterans Affairs system has been plagued recently with misstep after misstep that has morphed into a scandal followed by a fully fledged Officer of Inspector General investigation. Brandon brought his allegations to the Office of Special Counsel on December 6, 2014. He was privy with knowledge, and personally saw first hand, that suicidal veterans were being allowed to leave/escape the facility after being deemed suicidal.
This was the crux of his exposure, however, he was also a disabled veteran and the Phoenix VA facility, where he worked, was where he also received medical treatment, so when a co-worker illegally accessed his medical records this caused a lot of concern on Brandon’s part. It was discovered during the investigation that this happened three more times by VA personnel not associated with his medical care.
A little over a month would pass and then Director Glen Grippen proposed terminating him, but couldn’t as he was protected by federal whistleblower laws, however, VA legal counsel offered a sinister alternative, he could be terminated for unrelated misconduct. Pandora’s box had been opened.
Just one week later, Coleman was accused of threatening a co-worker. He was sent home on Jan 27, 2015 and was cleared of any wrongdoing on February 26, 2015. In its wisdom though, the VA let him stay home, on paid leave, from January 27, 2015 until May 1, 2016, almost a full year and half.
Brandon, a highly educated VA staffer, had completed his Ph.D., founded and implemented a 52-week outpatient substance abuse disorder treatment program called “Motivation for Change.” This program was created for vets who had been convicted of drug and/or alcohol related felonies. It successfully graduated 51 high risk vets before Coleman was retaliated against and sent home Jan 27, 2015. It died a slow death on the vine as a result of the VA’s retaliation against him.
His highly successful program was shut down by the VA, probably at the behest of Glen Grippen in early February 2015. Remember the VA had him sitting at home receiving full pay during this time, so in April 2015 Grippen attempted to place a gag order on Coleman forbidding him from speaking to any Phx VA employees.
The retaliation was in full effect, the VA unwritten policy was to isolate, dismantle and forbid access with any and all fellow employees and medical treatment in an effort to suppress the potential fallout the facility and its administration would face. This illegal retaliation forced Coleman to look for other VA facilities, in surrounding areas (Tucson or Prescott Valley) for his personal medical treatment as he wasn’t allowed to set foot on the Phoenix facility. Let that sink in for a moment and the repercussions it presented.
Coleman went to the media four days later citing his first amendment right to freedom of speech. On Sept 22, 2015 he testified before the United States Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee regarding whistleblower retaliation. With his help Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin introduced the Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower protection act of 2015. It is still pending approval in Congress as of this writing.
As director after director was hired and fired, the VA circled its wagons even tighter. Sharon Helman, the second Director appointed after Grippen was fired, after being convicted of accepting tens of thousands of dollars of gifts while its director and charged with a felony, she was terminated as a result. The VA scrambled to appoint a new director in an effort to “overhaul” its image.
Deborah Amdur who was appointed as director after Helman’s follies, resigned 9 months later, replaced immediately by Barbara Fallen, director the VA Loma Linda facility. To this day no Phoenix VA hospital boss had served for more than 13 months.
After the dust has finally settled here somewhat, how are things with the VA? Not good and unchanged, actually, it borders on criminal, only after other whistleblowers came forward, thanks to Coleman’s testimony and countless local, national, internet and radio interviews (he’s given over 400), did the scope of the VA’s problem become apparent.
How bad was the retaliation against Coleman? Take a look at this picture, of fellow employees mocking him. That’s Jeremy Pottle, second from left, wearing a long wig imitating Colemans long hair, glasses, fake beer belly, fake USMC tattoo and he even walked around with a limp mocking Coleman’s injury. He actually called his costume “Brandon Coleman’s whistleblower outfit.” The VA did nothing about this and enacted no investigation and no one involved was punished.
Investigations by Congress, the VA Office of Inspector General and media outlets verified those allegations not just in Phoenix, but also as a systemic problem throughout the Veterans Health Administration’s in more than 150 hospitals. Inquiries also exposed widespread retaliation against whistleblowers, and flawed medical care at some facilities.. It became, and continues to be apparent that things are out of control in the nations largest health care system.
Coleman meanwhile, has since been reinstated at the Anthem VA Clinic where he continues to help vets work on getting clean and sober and has since been vindicated by an internal VA report which confirms he was retaliated against. He’s still outspoken regarding the cesspool (his words) that is the Phoenix VA and still gives national and local TV and radio interviews to try to help bring accountability to the Phoenix VA which he calls the worst example of VA Healthcare in the country.
His son (also an infantry Marine) recently bought a house via my real estate company, Semper Find My Home, I had the honor of giving him back over $4,000 dollars in order for him to be able to purchase it with his wife and newborn. As a service disabled connected veteran myself, who receives treatment at the Phoenix facility, I’m deeply troubled that an organization meant to help this nations warfighters has conducted itself in this manner.
Recently while going to an appointment I noticed this billboard sign that has been there for over a year just across the street from the director’s office. It gave me pause to think about what it says. “VA is lying, vets are dying,” how did we get here and why, but more importantly how do we fix it?
Coleman meanwhile, drives a 1968 Ford Mustang with personalized plates that read “THX VA” to help bring attention to the horrors that go on in mistreating our nations veterans on a daily basis at the Phoenix VA.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Spotter Up.
Guest writer Alex Popovic served almost 10 years as a Force Reconnaissance Marine and Scout/Sniper. He got out right before 9-11 and was recalled afterwards for OEF in Afghanistan and the Middle East and also the start of OIF. He recently completed his MBA and is working on attending ASU law school focusing on Intellectual Property law and helping veterans with their VA claims. He has been helping veterans the last several years with his real estate company, Semper Find My Home, for all their real estate needs and giving back his commission to them.