- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2014

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.

A VA official presiding over Mr. Colon-Christensen’s case ruled that “the penalty of removal is not appropriate nor within the range of reasonableness,” according to a Dec. 23 ruling on the notice of proposed termination.

The termination notice against Mr. Colon-Christensen made no mention of Mr. Hamlin’s arrest, but Mr. Christensen said he learned about his possible firing soon after he’d alerted VA officials in Washington. And both Mr. Colon-Christensen and his attorney told The Washington Times in September that the timing of the termination notice raised questions about whether the move was retaliatory at a time when the VA was encouraging whistleblowers to come forward.

Mr. Hamlin repeatedly refused a breathalyzer and declined to identify the source of a narcotic painkiller pill found in his pocket after a Florida sheriff’s deputy spotted him in a parked car after 1 a.m. back in April, according to a police report.

However, the Pasco County State’s Attorney’s Office later dropped drug possession charges over “concerns about the stop,” according to a memo obtained by The Times through an open records request. A drunken driving charge also was tossed.

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In email to The Times earlier this year, Mr. Hamlin called the arrest a misunderstanding. He also noted that he was being treated for a medical condition. He declined to discuss the arrest report, saying he did not want to discuss his personal medical information.

Mr. Colon-Christensen, a veteran himself, was suspended for three days over what the VA deemed an unauthorized disclosure of information.

Records in the case reviewed by The Times, which were provided by Mr. Colon-Christensen, show that violation stemmed from emails that he had sent to a VA employee at another facility raising concerns about hiring practices.

Mr. Colon-Christensen said he was disappointed with the suspension, even if the VA rejected the termination proposal.

“The leadership in San Juan is trying to use me and others as an example to stop reporting wrongdoing,” he said Tuesday. Mr. Colon-Christensen also said the suspension was the result of a “bogus fact finding” and that he did nothing wrong.

VA officials have previously declined to comment on the case, citing privacy rules that prohibit the agency from commenting on personnel matters.

However, the agency directed The Times to previous statements by Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald, who has called whistleblower retaliation “unacceptable and intolerable” and who got the Cabinet job in the wake of the waiting-list scandals brought to the public’s attention by whistleblowers.

“We are working hard to create and sustain a climate that embraces constructive dissent, welcomes critical feedback and ensures compliance with legal requirements,” Mr. McDonald told reporters earlier this year. “That climate mandates commitment to whistleblower protections to all employees.”

Mr. Colon-Christensen’s case attracted the attention of a key House Republican earlier this year.

Though he did not mention Mr. Colon-Christensen by name, Rep. Mike Coffman, Colorado Republican, wrote to Mr. McDonald about an accusation against a whistleblower for “voicing his concerns and complaints” about issues that included Mr. Hamlin’s arrest, which the lawmaker called “very concerning.”

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