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Karl Tanner, president of the American Federation of Public Employees Local 1042 stands near the Harvard Avenue entrance of the Roseburg VA in November 2017.

Investigators from the U.S. Department of Veterans Health Administration Office of the Medical Inspector were on the Roseburg VA Medical Center campus as promised Monday and Tuesday. But it didn’t seem like they were really there to investigate employee retaliation and intimidation.

That’s according to Karl Tanner, president of the American Federation of Public Employees Local 1042, which represents Roseburg VA employees. Tanner said contrary to expectations of many current and former employees, the investigators appeared to be there to investigate a medical issue, and not employee complaints about harassment, intimidation and whistle-blower retaliation.

After Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, pushed investigators to interview employees about retaliation, Tanner said between 30 and 40 current and former employees wrote letters asking to speak to the investigators about intimidation and retaliation. He believes all but one were turned down, and said that one wasn’t questioned about intimidation and retaliation.

It turned out the investigators were looking into a medical care issue instead, and the people chosen for interviews were people connected with that. The interviews were about the medical issue, though interviewees were briefly asked if they had any information about intimidation and retaliation. If they started to bring something up, though, they were shut down and the conversation was redirected, Tanner said.

It’s possible the investigators will ask about intimidation and retaliation when they return Nov. 13, but it would be unusual for the Office of the Medical Inspector, since they don’t generally deal with administrative issues, Tanner said. Their mission is to investigate patient care, Tanner said. He said he can’t divulge what the medical issue is because of patient privacy restrictions.

Tanner is in a unique position to speak about employee treatment, since he’s retired from the VA, where he used to work as a recreational therapist. The union president is elected by its members, so the VA administration has no way of putting its thumb on him, he said.

Tanner said Roseburg VA employees are some of the best in the country, and committed to veteran care.

“We have what I believe is the greatest staff in the history of all of the VAs,” he said. “We have staff that make it through adversity and smile.”

But many employees face intimidation and retaliation. Some managers and supervisors are great, but others aren’t. And senior management officials, he said, are causing significant problems.

Since he became union president two years ago, Tanner has seen about 30 complaints filed with the Office of Special Counsel, and about 30 Equal Employment Opportunity complaints. It’s one of the highest levels in the country, he said.

He said people shouldn’t be bullied at the VA.

“We’re professionals, for Pete’s sake. We’re not kids. So we’re hoping for good change. We’re hoping for a positive outcome from this,” he said.

Director Doug Paxton confirmed investigators from the Office of Medical Inspector are conducting a review at the Roseburg VA, but didn’t offer details.

“At the end of the review, the Department of Veterans Affairs will take appropriate action as warranted,” he said in a written statement issued Friday afternoon.

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

(7) comments

gary may

Kcbolton he is union president, I'm a former employee of 23 years and I know from writing Defazio's office, what ranjan and others are doing is coruption, as director Paxton is directly liable fir all that goes on there even if his hands werent dirty, which I know for a fact HE IS one of the issues of coruption, intintimation, retaliation and lack of equality towards women and staff that question upper management such as an incompetent chief of surgery who as you may or may not have read put allot of Vetetans health at risk by doing substandard colonoscopies and firing people for bringing it and other care issues to light. Hard to believe? Not to us that are in the know and work there.
STAY TUNED...

kcbolton

Not sure how a retired employee knows enough about the patient issue the investigators are there for, to the point he implies. I would think HIPAA laws would make that a violation of a patient's privacy all by itself.

MJM

Karl was not revealing any patient PHI, or violating HIPPA in any way. He was simply saying the investigation is a ruse. Congressman DeFazio pressured the VA to investigate the ongoing whistleblower retaliation, and the media reported the OMI was going to investigate. Karl is saying it is all a lie. There is no way that Office of Medical Investigation will look into bullying, intimidation, harassment, and retaliation. Another stonewall by the Federal Government. What country do we live in?

kcbolton

"Their mission is to investigate patient care, Tanner said. He said he can’t divulge what the medical issue is because of patient privacy restrictions."

Not It

He's still the union president who gets to sit in on many of the interactions. He knows plenty.

BetsyC

The managers and supervisors are all public servants. They should not be bullying or intimidating any other public servant there. The best way to stop this may well be to name names publicly so we can all know who is breaking the public trust they have been given. If they are behaving inappropriately, they need not be working for the public in any capacity and the public has a right to know about it.

just me

the v.a. just wants to show how it looks, not how it works

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