Whistleblower: Trump VA executive order risks being ‘dog and pony show’

Caitlin Dickson
·Reporter
President Trump is greeted by Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, left, as he arrives to sign an executive order on improving accountability and whistleblower protection at the Department of Veterans Affairs on April 27, 2017, in Washington. At right is Brandon Coleman, a whistleblower and addiction counselor from Phoenix, Ariz. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)
President Trump is greeted by Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, left, as he arrives to sign an executive order on improving accountability and whistleblower protection at the Department of Veterans Affairs on April 27, 2017, in Washington. At right is Brandon Coleman, a whistleblower and addiction counselor from Phoenix, Ariz. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

Veterans Affairs whistleblower Brandon Coleman is cautiously optimistic about the significance of President Trump’s executive order to improve accountability and protect whistleblowers at the agency.

But he also had note of warning.

“Unless they bring whistleblowers to the table, this is nothing more than another dog and pony show,” Coleman told “Fox & Friends” on Friday morning.

Coleman, a former Marine-turned-addiction counselor, has been an outspoken critic of the VA’s failure to protect whistleblowers since he was placed on administrative leave for 18 months after he reported mismanagement of potentially suicidal or homicidal mental health patients at the VA Medical Center in Phoenix, Ariz., in 2015. He filed a reprisal claim with the independent federal Office of Special Council (OSC), which has found evidence of widespread cases of retaliatory action against VA whistleblowers across the country.

Last May, the OSC settled Coleman’s case, and he returned to work — away from his former supervisors in Phoenix at a community-based outpatient treatment center run by the northern Arizona VA Coleman has remained a vocal advocate for whistleblowers, however. In December, he penned an open letter to then President-elect Trump in the conservative Daily Caller, urging him to follow through on his campaign promise to “clean up” the VA.

Trump apparently heard Coleman’s call, and invited him to the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C., this week, where the president signed an executive order to establish a new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection within the VA. The office is aimed at terminating or disciplining employees who fail to provide veterans with adequate care, and to protect those who report wrongdoing.

“This executive order makes it clear that we will never, ever tolerate substandard care for our great veterans,” Trump said before signing the order Thursday. “With the creation of this office, we are sending a strong message: Those who fail our veterans will be held, for the first time, accountable.”

But some past VA whistleblowers told USA Today that they were skeptical that Trump’s order would make a substantial difference. “Until there are concrete changes all the way down the chain of command at VA hospitals,” said one, Ryan Honl, “it’s all hot air.”

And while Trump called the action “historic,” Coleman said Friday, “We’ve got lots of agencies within the VA that are supposed to protect whistleblowers, and none of them are doing it yet.” He called for a one-on-one meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin to ensure that whistleblowers are included in making sure the new office lives up to Trump’s promises.

Whether Coleman’s requests are met remains to be seen, but he certainly knows how to get the cable news junkie president’s attention. Shortly before Coleman’s appearance on “Fox and Friends” Friday, Trump tweeted: “We are making tremendous progress with the VA. There has never been so much done so quickly, and we have just started. We love our VETS!”

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