Union helps VA employees avoid more serious punishment

JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – When some Mountain Home VA employees get in trouble, their union steps in and sometimes saves them from serious punishment, according to federal records.

Public records identified two cases where Mountain Home VA set aside proposed suspensions and downgraded the punishment as a result of settlement agreements. In both of those cases, federal documents show supervisors originally said multiple day suspensions were necessary, but when the union got involved, the cases ended with an admonishment and reprimand instead.

One of the cases involved a VA doctor who admitted to inappropriately touching nurses. His settlement agreement shows the VA reassigned him and prevented him from securing any new jobs for five years. In return, Mountain Home reduced his punishment to an admonishment and removed all references of his suspension from his personnel file. He also lost five days’ worth of pay.

“I do not feel that other alternatives will be adequate or effective,” the deputy chief of staff said prior to the settlement, according to federal records.

At the time of the deputy chief of staff’s statement, the VA was considering a 7-day suspension. Eventually, Mountain Home rescinded a 5-day suspension in lieu of the settlement.

In another case, a VA police officer left the property in a marked vehicle and conducted a traffic stop outside of VA jurisdiction, according to federal records. Not only that, he didn’t radio in a license plate number or the location of the stop, according to records. He signed a settlement too.

“I don’t feel a lesser penalty would fully communicate the severity of this…or deter such conduct by him in the future,” the VA police chief said prior to the settlement.

At the time, he suggested a 3-day suspension. The case ended in a reprimand.

“Why would the VA reduce a punishment in lieu of a settlement?” we asked then Acting VA Director Dan Snyder.

“Often times, we will negotiate a settlement and reduce a discipline based on adding something to it, generally that’s adding a last chance agreement to it,” Snyder said. “Basically, one more strike and you’re out and there’s no question about it.”

We could not find mention of a last chance clause in either of the two settlements we obtained, but we did see where the employees agreed to withdraw any claims, complaints and grievances against the VA and waived their rights to pursue future action against the federal agency.

As our investigation Monday night revealed, despite substantiated acts of abuse, disrespect and failure to help veterans, some VA employees kept their jobs. Congressman Phil Roe (R), District 1, called our findings “unacceptable.”

Copyright WJHL 2016. All rights reserved.

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