Laura Follett said she still has nightmares about working at the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Follett said she is a whistle-blower who was fired for refusing to bend the rules, re-hired after she filed a complaint, and then retaliated against until she resigned. She left the VA with a $40,000 settlement, increased anxiety and the conviction that she, a 15-year Navy veteran, would never return to the VA, not even for medical treatment.

According to allegations in VA documents about her termination, Follett was fired because she made a mistake, and lied in a memo saying her work was accurate. Follett admits the mistake, though she said the VA exaggerated the impact. She said she didn’t write the memo.

The VA hired Follett in June 2014 as a medical support assistant. Six months later, she was promoted to primary care management module coordinator. It was a big step up, putting her in charge of organizing primary care teams and their patients. Things went well, she said, until October 2015, when she was reassigned to a different “chain of command” under a different supervisor.

Six months later, she was fired.

Follett asserts she lost her job because she repeatedly refused to accept management decisions that violated federal rules about the way primary care teams were organized — rules she said help protect patients. For example, she said the VA wanted to allow licensed practical nurses to substitute in for registered nurses, who have a higher level of training. Follett said that could put patients at risk.

Follett said she ran afoul of supervisors after she corrected a supervisor during a morning meeting about the rules of the choice program, which allows some VA patients to see doctors outside the VA. The supervisor screamed at her afterward, she said. According to Follett, the same supervisor frequently said, “Laura, Laura, Laura” in a contemptuous way when she spoke to Follett.

Another supervisor tried to form a staff team for a new physician in a way that violated VA regulations and compromised patient safety. When Follett objected, she said the supervisor lunged at her and yelled so loudly that other employees heard him outside a closed door.

In a proposed termination memo dated Feb. 26, 2016, the VA alleged Follett was being fired for “careless or negligent workmanship” that led to 5,600 patients of the North Bend clinic being incorrectly approved for the choice program. It also referenced a Dec. 10, 2015, memo, signed by the VA director and allegedly written by Follett. The VA said the memo provided false information that the choice program data was correct.

In a letter dated March 11, 2016, Springfield attorney K.C. Huffman asked the VA to reinstate Follett. He noted her performance ratings were outstanding.

“A full investigation of the facts will reveal that as opposed to having her employment terminated, Laura should be commended for her outstanding work done for the fellow veterans she serves,” Huffman wrote.

Huffman said that 5,600 number is inflated, overstating North Bend patient numbers by about 2,600 people. It also didn’t account for the fact that many of those veterans were already eligible for choice under another provision, because they faced 30-day delays for appointments. Follett said she caught and corrected her mistake in early January.

Huffman said the “memo” was from a previous report, forwarded to Follett’s supervisor as an example of what might be written after a quarterly report was completed. Follett didn’t intend for it to become a memo signed by the director, he said.

He also wrote that it’s unlikely Follett would have been fired at all, had the VA not broken its own rules by appointing the health administration services chief rather than the primary care chief as her supervisor.

The VA employee who would determine whether Follett kept her job was the fiancee of one of the supervisors she said was retaliating against her. Huffman asked the VA to assign another person to decide her case. The VA subsequently assigned a different person to make the decision, but, according to Follett, it was an employee who reported to the supervisor’s fiancee.

Follett filed an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board, and was temporarily returned to work in July, where she said the retaliation continued. She said another employee had been given her job, and he remained in the position, despite there now being two people with the same title. She said supervisors would walk past her desk to talk to him, ignoring her.

Follett’s case went to mediation. In December 2016, the parties reached a settlement agreement. Follett was paid $40,000 and agreed to resign.

Follett said the post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression from which she already suffered grew worse as the alleged retaliation progressed. She cried a lot and had difficulty sleeping and concentrating. During a meeting with her union president, she began dry heaving. Her medications and therapy visits increased.

Follett said 99 percent of the VA employees, the “boots on the ground,” are good people who care about the patients. The problem, she said, is management.

She doesn’t agree with the Douglas County Veterans Forum, which recently gave a vote of no confidence against the chief of surgery, but made it clear they approve of Director Doug Paxton’s performance.

“Mr. Paxton is the captain of his ship, and ultimately he is responsible for what’s going on. And he knows what’s going on. It’s his job to know,” she said.

Follett said she no longer trusts the VA with her own health care.

“Mr. Paxton talks about caring for the veterans, well I am one of those veterans. How much did he care about me?” she said.

The News-Review wasn’t able to reach Follett’s former supervisors for comment.

VA spokesman Shanon Goodwin initially said due to privacy restrictions, the VA can’t comment on job performance of past employees unless they sign a written consent form. After Follett signed the form, the VA responded Friday morning with criticism of Follett's job performance.

It said Follett's behavior on the job wasn't what it expects from VA employees, and that she didn't meet job expectations. That's why her supervisor determined she was an unfit employee and recommended termination, the statement said.

"Her performance in her short time with VA was substandard, she did not fully understand the scope of her position and could not competently perform her duties, causing numerous errors.

The statement went on to list examples of her "incompetence," saying she failed to update computer systems for which she was responsible, "resulting in mismanagement that had to be corrected by other staff."

The VA also said her behavior was "volatile, aggressive and unprofessional, creating a stressful environment for other employees."

"She refused to listen to reason and good-faith advice from both her peers and supervisors. She did not want to work as a team player and ostracized coworkers," the statement said.

It also said there's no truth to her allegations about the supervisor she said lunged at her and yelled so loudly other employees could hear him through a closed door.

“The VA does not tolerate retaliation,” Goodwin said in an earlier written statement Wednesday. “Any employees who feel they are experiencing retaliation should contact the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection.”

Reporter Carisa Cegavske can be reached at 541-957-4213 or ccegavske@nrtoday.com.

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Senior Reporter

Carisa Cegavske is the senior reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at 541-957-4213 or by email at ccegavske@nrtoday.com. Follow her on Twitter @carisa_cegavske

(3) comments

MJM

So this veteran that served 15 years in the Navy, received an honorable discharge, and committed herself to help veterans is being attacked by the Roseburg VA in response to this reporter's story. It is a sad day when veterans regret serving for a country that spawned a corrupt administration that attacks them, beats them down, slanders their good name to cover their corruption, and does everything it can to hurt veterans. Many of the people that are in the administration have been born in other countries, are not veterans, and have been given power to hurt those that have been born here and chose to sign that blank check to serve to protect. I, as a veteran, am ashamed of my fellow veterans that continue to victimize the victims that they have created. I also am one of the victims of the corrupt administration of the Roseburg VA Medical Center. I pray daily for justice from Heaven to fall upon it. We are now fighting the very government that we were so proud to serve. I am no longer naive' about where this country has gone. The VA does not care, or support, veterans. It destroys them. No Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, or Excellence. The ICARE motto is a joke. It should read "IDONTCARE, and I am going to take you out." Doug Paxton said "I take that hill." We can now see it does not matter to him how he takes it. He will kill people's reputations, steal their security, and destroy anything he can to get his way, all the while hiding behind no retaliation rhetoric. He needs to get the same treatment that he is giving out to better people than he will ever be. He is a very small man, and I am not talking about his stature.

Despacito

Well. Is anyone noticing a pattern here? There is a problem for women who work at the VA Roseburg healthcare system. Doug Paxton is a misogynist. He does not like women. Many of these employees are females and many who have not spoken out and are in fear for their careers...are FEMALE. Doug tells women in staff meetings to put their big girl panties on. The person who is referred to in this article as retaliating against this employee was Doug's right hand man and he retaliated against other females at the Roseburg facility too. And yes, the nepotism...is rampant. If Doug likes you, he'll make sure your fiancee, boyfriend, wife etc. is put in a position of influence (like the Chief of Staff for example). Why is that tolerated at a federal facility? Why are YOU, the taxpayer letting this go on? Why is the Douglas County Veterans Forum so snowed by Doug? Do they not understand that Doug is responsible for ALL of this behavior and has in fact sanctioned it? Again, time for the captain to go down with the ship. Time for Doug to put on his big boy life jacket and go overboard.

OSCMD

When will the Veterans Forum realize that their support for this Director is causing harm to Veterans. Open your eyes! Look at how management are not only treating employees, but Veteran employees. There is a reason that there have been daily articles. Who’s lying? Us or him? Seems very obvious. They are masters of deception, and management is allowed to conduct themselves as such, ultimately affecting Veterans. Investigations are not complete as he stated in the town hall meeting. He is not honest folks. The dozens of EEOs against him should prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt.

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