Every day, social worker Jamie Carlson goes to her job at the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center, sits in her office and does nothing.
Carlson says she wants to counsel veterans, but she has been forbidden to see patients since Aug. 31.
Instead, Carlson, who has a master’s degree in social work and has worked at the VA for six years, watches YouTube and looks at Facebook, while collecting a $65,000 a year salary.
The VA won’t comment on her case. and Carlson said she has never been given a list of formal allegations. But she said she was told by a supervisor she is under investigation for allegedly having an intimate relationship with a man who attended a few support group meetings at the VA. She says the man was a friend, but she was never intimate with him and he was not her patient.
Carlson declined to let The News-Review look at a 1,200-page investigation file the VA turned over to her, saying her attorney advised against it. She said the copy she received had names, dates and specific allegations blacked out, making it difficult to defend herself.
Carolyn Schwab, the president of the union that represents Carlson, said the files suggest the investigation is based largely on rumors started by coworkers.
“It appears to be this is all second, third and fourth hand hearsay. People saying ‘he said, she said, they said and blah, blah, blah,’ ” Schwab said.
In January, Carlson, 33, filed a discrimination complaint claiming her supervisors have harassed her because she is young, female and Pakistani-American. The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Resolution Management has said it will investigate the complaint.
VA spokeswoman Carrie Boothe responded to Carlson’s accusation of racial discrimination with a written statement.
“VA does not comment on employee related issues; however, the medical center has a zero tolerance policy for discriminatory practices. We provide equal opportunity in employment for all employees and applicants for employment regardless of race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, disability or sexual orientation,” the statement said.
Carlson said her troubles began last August when she returned from vacation to find she was under investigation. On Aug. 29, she attended a 3 1/2 hour “fact-finding” session at which she says she was asked vague questions by an investigator.
“The first question he asked me was, had I ever had a social, personal, intimate or inappropriate relationship with a veteran? I said I can’t give an answer to that question. That’s four questions in one. Half of my friends are veterans and some of my family are veterans. My supervisor’s a veteran ... My best friend is a veteran,” Carlson said.
In August and again in February, Carlson said she was given ultimatums to resign or be terminated. The VA never followed through on the threats. In March, another fact-finding session was held. Carlson said she still was not confronted with specific allegations.
After nearly a year of demands for information from Carlson and union representatives, the VA gave Carlson a copy of the investigation file.
Carlson expressed annoyance about what she read.
“I wish if people had questions, they would just ask me instead of putting a Harlequin romance together about my life,” Carlson said.
Schwab said she suspects race might be a factor in the way Carlson’s case has been handled. She said she is certain the VA has not been forthcoming about the case.
Schwab said that the union’s repeated requests for a formal list of allegations under investigation were rebuffed.
“The union sent many requests for information. First, we were told we were premature. We filed subsequently other motions. ... None of that came to much,” said Schwab, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1042.
“Over the past year and a half, they have violated the process repeatedly and that is wrong,” Schwab said.
Among the incidents highlighted in Carlson’s discrimination complaint are attempts to force her to resign, a poor performance evaluation and her banishment from patient care. Carlson said she was also suspended Sept. 17. She was allowed to return to work but not to see patients Oct. 12.
Carlson said she believes her supervisors hope she will quit, but said she has no plans to do so. She said she fears it would tarnish her reputation and damage her career.
Although she is frustrated, Carlson said it is the veterans she served — especially the post-traumatic stress disorder patients — who suffer most from her inability to work.
“It takes these guys a long time to gain trust,” Carlson said.
One former patient, James Shelton of Roseburg, was so upset when he learned from the union why he was no longer allowed to see Carlson that he wrote to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to complain.
Shelton said he was greatly helped by Carlson’s counsel and by a PTSD support group she ran. He said his condition has deteriorated since Carlson was banned from seeing him. He said he has difficulty leaving the house, is constantly on edge and is testy with his wife.
Shelton’s PTSD group changed hands several times and merged with other groups after Carlson was barred from leading it. “After more strangers came in, I quit the group. I’m not going to open my heart up to all those people,” Shelton said.
Shelton, who worked as a housekeeper for the VA for 30 years before retiring three years ago, said Carlson was doing a great job and was treated unfairly.
Shelton said Wyden responded to his complaint, but only to say he could not get in the middle of a personnel matter.
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.