- Associated Press - Saturday, December 23, 2017

MITCHELL, S.D. (AP) - A former Davison County veterans service officer is alleging the state Department of Veterans Affairs got her fired because she raised concerns about errors in veterans’ files and what she felt was improper use of military insignia on souvenir coins.

The Daily Republic reports Jessica Davidson was fired Nov. 29 after three years on the job by Brenda Bode, chairwoman of the county commission. Davidson maintains she was fired because her “whistleblowing” upset DVA Secretary Larry Zimmerman.

Davidson said that in one instance she sent an email to DVA Deputy Secretary Aaron Pollard raising concerns about 12 veteran files that either had errors or were taking multiple weeks to be processed. She said the “final nail in the coffin” came when she raised concerns about whether the DVA’s use of military insignia on commemorative coins for World War II veterans infringed on U.S. Department of Defense trademark guidelines.

She said she contacted DVA public information officer Audry Ricketts about her concerns and Ricketts told her it was fine. She wasn’t convinced so she sent emails to trademark offices to make sure she wouldn’t face any legal action for handing out the coins. One response from the Air Force Branding and Trademark Licensing Office, asked that the coins be destroyed, Davidson said.

Bode, Pollard and Zimmerman declined to speak to the newspaper. Ricketts said in a brief response to a request for comment that the DVA doesn’t hire or fire county employees.

Davidson says she’s contemplating a lawsuit. The county personnel manual states that the county can fire employees without any reason. State law also allows county commissioners to fire veterans service officers upon recommendation of the DVA secretary.

But Davidson’s attorney, R. Shawn Tornow says a new state statute protects local government employees from retaliation for reporting violations, abuses or a danger to the public.

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