Brandon Coleman is known for having exposed some of the most dramatic failings of the Veterans Administration. The Phoenix VA has often been under scrutiny for its inefficacy in assisting veterans suffering from trauma and complex mental health conditions.
Coleman, who used to work as a counselor at the Phoenix VA hospital, raised concerns about the insufficient assistance received by suicidal veterans there.
Now, the Trump administration has assigned the former VA whistleblower to the agency's new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP). In fact, when Trump signed the decree that created the OAWP, Coleman was standing right behind him. This landmark decision was aligned with Trump’s campaign promise to reform the VA.
According to its brand new Internet page, the new office is “committed to providing immediate investigative services within all Veterans Affairs offices to ensure the improved quality of service to each Veteran.” Addressing veterans, the webpage states, “Your cooperation and input is essential for the OAWP to succeed in accomplishing this goal.”
Although Coleman is yet to be given a job title, he is looking forward to having a position from which he can influence how the VA treats whistleblowers. "I told them during my interview I am willing to clean toilets or take out the garbage if that's what they need. I just want to be there and help fix the current mess with whistleblowers at the VA," he has commented.
The 42-year-old former marine became a whistleblower after repeated attempts to be heard by his superiors. Shortly after he discussed the Phoenix VA’s mistreatment of suicidal veterans with journalists, Coleman faced various forms of retaliation. The successful addiction therapy program he run was inexplicably shut down, and he was accused of committing an act of violence, without any evidence.
Later, Coleman’s claims of retaliation were heard, and he reached an undisclosed settlement with the agency. He used the money to pay off debt, help his son, who is also a marine, buy a house, and famously purchase a vehicle with a license plate that reads, “THX VA.”
“Lots of people at the VA wanted to see me hit by a bus,” Coleman has commented, “I can’t believe that the same agency that tried to fire me when I first spoke out on Jan. 12, 2015 is now paying me to talk to the media. For the first time, instead of being thought of as part of the problem, we’re being thought of as part of the solution.”
Coleman’s main role at the OAWP will be to encourage whistleblowers to speak up in spite of the many obstacles they face on account of the VA’s organizational culture. How much power Coleman will have to actually change things around the VA remains to be seen, but his appointment alone represents a triumph for VA whistleblowers across America.
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