Outgoing VA deputy undersecretary offered last-minute settlement to NC whistleblower

VA network office refuses to release records of complaints, despite FOIA Request
Updated: Jan. 29, 2019 at 7:09 PM EST
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DURHAM, NC (WBTV) - A senior official with the US Department of Veterans Affairs tried to quickly settle a whistleblower complaint from an employee—who alleged retaliation at the agency’s regional office in Durham, NC—just weeks before he left the agency, an email recently obtained by WBTV shows.

Joseph Edger was working as Deputy Network Director of VISN 6, effectively the two-state region that oversees the VA medical facilities in North Carolina and Virginia, when he filed a complaint against his boss, Network Director DeAnne Seekins, with the VA’s Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection in February 2018.

In his complaint, Edger accused Seekins of retaliation, intimidation and making threats, among other things.

WBTV has reviewed two other complaints in addition to the one filed by Edger from other VISN 6 employees making the same allegations.

Earlier this month, a spokesman for Seekins said he was unable to respond to a request for comment regarding the accusations made by Edger and others in their OAWP complaints because Edger did not sign a privacy waiver.

When pressed, the spokesman could not point to a policy that required such a waiver in order for the VA to be able to respond.

Instead, Seekins sent an email to all VISN 6 employees about the upcoming WBTV investigation and denied knowledge of any OAWP complaint other than Edger’s.

Speedy settlement offer

In addition to the complaint he filed with OAWP, Edger filed a separate complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency tasked with investigating and mediating complaints brought by government employee whistleblowers.

Through the OSC complaint process, Edger received an offer to settle his complaint in mid-December, WBTV has learned.

The offer came in an email on Friday, December 14, 2018.

An attorney for OSC assigned to Edger’s case sent the email outlining the terms of the offer: Edger would retain his pay grade but be given a non-supervisory job working primarily from home.

“The settlement would put you in a virtual position, with positions open at Headquarters, likely dealing with procurement and logistics,” the attorney said.

Previous: VA whistleblower complaints allege abuse, retaliation from regional director

In addition to passing along the terms of the settlement offer, the attorney also made clear that time was of the essence.

“The person who has authority to offer this settlement is leaving the agency at the end of the month, and the VA would want to have this resolved by the end of the month,” the lawyer’s email read.

Two people familiar with the negotiations between Edger and the OSC attorney identified the person whose retirement was necessitating a speedy settlement as Steve Young, the now-former VA Deputy Undersecretary of Health for Operations and Management.

In that role, Young was Seekins’ direct supervisor.

Young’s LinkedIn page lists him leaving the VA in January.

Edger rejected the offer from Young and made a counter offer, the two people familiar with the negotiations said. The county-offer never got a response.

It is not clear if anyone at VA’s Central Office was aware of the offer made by Young to settle Edger’s complaint.

Nor is it clear whether Seekins’ was involved in putting the offer made by Young together.

Related: Documents show VA leadership failed to stop sexual harassment at Salisbury VA

WBTV submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for records related to complaints filed within VISN 6 in mid-October.

About a month later, in mid-November, a VISN FOIA officer told a WBTV reporter he’d have records by the end of the week; that was later retracted.

A spokesman for VISN 6 did not respond to an inquiry from WBTV for this story as to why the office had not yet produced any records responsive to the request.

Similarly, a spokesman for the VA’s Central Office did not respond to a request for comment for this story, after first saying he was coordinating a response with a VISN 6 spokesman and, later, saying the response to this story would come directly from VISN 6.

No spokesman employed by the VA has answered any questions regarding the multiple allegations made by Edger and his coworkers regarding retaliation, bullying and threats they say were made by Seekins.

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