Bay Citizen – A former Department of Veterans Affairs employee accused the agency today of “cover-up after cover-up” and a “callous indifference” to the plight of veterans it is supposed to serve.
Jamie Fox, who lost her job at the VA’s Oakland office after arguing that a veteran’s benefits were being erroneously denied, appeared in federal court in San Francisco as part of a wrongful termination lawsuit filed against the agency.
She was joined in court by Hosea Roundtree, the Navy veteran whose application for benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder was denied on the grounds that he had never seen combat even though he had witnessed the 1983 shelling of Beirut.
“We are being cheated out of our benefits,” Roundtree said after the hearing. “I want to stand with someone who was standing up for us vets.”
In the courtroom, Elizabeth Laporte, the federal magistrate hearing the case, ruled that Roundtree’s disability claim file should be entered as evidence in Fox’s wrongful termination suit. “The denial of benefits are at issue,” Laporte said.
In legal pleadings filed in federal court earlier this month, the agency took a different tack.
In court papers filed earlier this month, the VA’s attorney, Victoria Carradero, cited a story on Fox’s case produced by the Center for Investigative Reporting, The Bay Citizen’s parent organization, and said the VA “is entitled the opportunity to investigate” allegations that benefits were wrongfully denied and “demonstrate their lack of merit.”
Fox’s case comes amid increased scrutiny of the way the VA handles disability claims. Nationwide, the number of veterans waiting for benefits has grown to about 900,000, and the average wait time zoomed to 262 days this fall.
Veterans awaiting a decision from the VA’s Oakland office, which serves veterans who live between Bakersfield and the Oregon border, wait more than a year on average.
VA officials have argued that the inspector general’s reports “do not present a true picture of the overall quality of the work performed” by VA employees because they focused on a subset of high-profile claims. Agency representatives could not be reached for further comment.
For her part, Fox characterizes the Roundtree case as a smokescreen designed to detract from allegations of employment discrimination brought by another former employee of the VA’s Oakland office. That employee, Ann Williams, alleges she was taunted regularly for being a lesbian.
At the time she lost her job, Fox said she had just come forward to corroborate William’s story. “If we had not complained to Oakland VA management about the discrimination and prejudice in our workplace, we would still be there, doing the job we loved, helping other veterans like Hosea Roundtree,” Fox said outside the courtroom.
The VA has denied that any harassment took place in filings in the Fox case.
Source: Bay Citizen, November 27, 2012, by Aaron Glantz