Whistleblower does his duty
Joseph Colon has sacrificed in search of the truth and hold people accountable but he says it is worth it.
Joseph Colon has nearly lost his job and knows he will never be promoted, but says it was all worth it.
Colon is currently employed at the Puerto Rico VA Medical Center.
He is a Navy veteran, having retired after 20 years with a rank of Hospital Corpsman Chief Petty Officer.
On May 10, 2009, he first began working at the VA, hoping to help those he served alongside with.
His employment turned into something much different in 2012, however, when he first discovered waste, fraud, and abuse at the hospital.
“I had a Vietnam veteran that worked as work study in our credentialing department that was complaining about not being able to receive mental health care, and the Chief of Staff removed a psychiatrist from patient care to do his administrative work,” Colon said.
From that moment forward, he became known by another unofficial title: that of whistleblower.
He reported what he found first to his chain of command and then to Congress.
Looking back, he said he was naïve about the reaction.
“I expected it to like my Navy days that when a problem arose, we worked as a team to correct it.” Colon said.
Instead, Colon said he faced years of retaliation.
First, he was passed over for a promotion, and then he was moved to the basement for an assignment.
Colon continued to report on problems at the hospital; in 2014, he reported that a superior had been arrested.
This brought even more retaliation; here is part of a Washington Times story.
“A Department of Veterans Affairs credentialing official who said VA supervisors sought to fire him for reporting the arrest of a high-ranking VA executive has been suspended from his job but won’t be fired.
“In a case that’s attracted the attention of Congress, Puerto Rico-based VA employee Joseph Colon-Christensen was put on notice of his proposed firing earlier this year after alerting the VA about the arrest of his boss, DeWayne Hamlin, director of the VA’s Caribbean network.”
Even as his reporting of wrongdoing was putting a target on him at his hospital, it was earning him praise in Congress and beyond.
In September 2015, he testified in front of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
“The Whistleblowers in Puerto Rico really need the help from this committee to ensure that Whistleblower Retaliation does not keep on happening at our facility and that the supervisors are held accountable. Unfortunately, our Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi does not even issue one statement against Whistleblower retaliation that occurs very often at this facility.” Colon said in that testimony. “Without proper oversight from our representative in Congress it makes it even more difficult for us whistleblowers in Puerto Rico.”
He went on to describe a plethora of issues at the hospital: a veteran’s death, legionella at the pool, unfair hiring practices, fraud in the travel voucher program, and even a registered sex offender providing disciplinary recommendations.
In 2017, he received a letter from the Governor of Virginia praising him for implementing a new pilot program.
“I would personally like to thank you for the generous and valuable support provided to my office and the Virginia Department of Veteran Services during the planning and implementation of the Military Medics and Corpsman Pilot Program here in Virginia,” the letter dated April 7, 2017, stated.
He told AL DÍA that his Congressional appearance has probably saved his job, but the retaliation continues.
He does not expect to be promoted.
The Department of Veteran Affairs has faced criticism for a culture of whistleblower retaliation.
In July 2018, the Government Accountability Office released a report which found that whistleblowers were “10 times more likely than their peers to receive disciplinary action within a year of reporting,” according to the Whistleblower Protection Blog.
Colon said he has no regrets: “Not for a minute [does he have regrets] because veterans deserve the care that they earned.”
He said he has seen little change in the culture at the VA since he first blew the whistle nearly a decade ago, but also said a new medical director assumed their post approximately a month ago and hopes that with a new leader there will be a new culture of accountability.